Empathy vs Lack of Borders

One of the struggles in life is discerning the fine line between empathy and lack of borders. Some of us seem to be born without borders.

That often leads us to acts of kindness, but it can also simply overwhelm us from needlessly taking on everyone else’s pain.  If we can’t find a way to separate their suffering from our own, we may reach the point where we finally begin to avoid even loved ones who are suffering.

Empathy allows us to understand their pain and comfort them with that understanding, but doesn’t require us to take it on.  Empathy frees us to care without judgment. It is a paradox that part of becoming whole is developing a sense of self independent of others, while recognizing that we are all of equal value in God’s eyes.

Jesus both suffered and died for us. He knew the pain of being human:  the emotional pain of rejection, abandonment, being a victim, humiliation, experiencing failure, physical pain from torture and a painful dying. He lived in our humanity and walked in our broken world. He saved us from the permanence of death, but not from suffering. He said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”

He didn’t say, “Here’s your get out of suffering free card. But neither did he say, “Carry everyone else’s cross.” Even though there are moments, when like Simon of Cyrene, we can help others carry theirs, we are not called to take on theirs, only our own custom made one. Suffering just comes with being human though our choices can increase our personal suffering.

Sometimes, after I have repeatedly and futilely tried to save someone I love from the consequences of their bad choices, I begin to avoid that person.  I need to escape both my own addiction to playing  savior and the overload of their pain on top of my own.

My challenges are: to accept suffering as part of becoming whole, to develop a sense of self as separate from even those I love, yet to recognize that we are all one in God’s eyes, and finally, to fully accept that removing the consequences of another’s self-destructive patterns of behavior simply rewards and reinforces it.

We can comfort and love others without judging, but we can’t save them. They may need healing or even deliverance which takes repentance and grace. Ultimately those are between them and God.

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About Eileen

Mother of five, grandmother of eleven, great-grandmother of seven, 1955 -1959 Rice University in Houston, TX. Taught primary grades; Was Associate Post Director of Religious Education at Ft. Campbell, KY; Consultant on the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator; Presently part time Administrative Assistant/Bookkeeper for Architect husband of fifty-seven years. Blog: Laughter: Carbonated Grace

Posted on May 13, 2015, in Addictions, Decision Making, fear for the future, Love, Mental Health, Paradox, Parenting, Personality, Prayer, relationships, spirituality, Suffering, Teaching/Learning Experiences and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Very insightful. Discerning where the balance is in each situation is needful.

    I’ve found that ‘removing the consequences of another’s self-destructive patterns of behavior’ makes them resent you in the end. When people are in trouble and need intervention, they need boundaries even if they resist them. If they recover, they thank you.

    • Hi, Yes. Eventually there’s resentment on both sides.
      And the longer it builds, the more alienating it becomes.Thanks so
      much for keeping up with my blog and commenting.
      I have a granddaughter and a great- grandson both graduating
      from high school this week, so I am getting behind on keeping up
      with the blogs I follow. God bless. Have a good weekend.

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