Empathy is My Superpower

Over the past year, I’ve come to terms with a hard truth. I cry in movies. It’s true. Not just the romantic ones, either. I cried when Optimus Prime took on four Decepticons to protect Sam in the second Transformers movie. I cry because I can’t help it. I feel moved, sometimes in a happy way, sometimes in a sad way. Sometimes, I feel angry at some perceived injustice. I know full well it’s a fictitious universe with characters made up by some Hollywood writer. But it doesn’t matter. The situations presented in film are often intentionally gut-wrenching. They want you to feel, and they succeed every time with me.

It’s not just movies, though. I cried this morning watching a TED talk (http://on.ted.com/j04KS). My tears are an indication of the intensity of my emotions. My heart resonates with some things very strongly. When it does, I can’t help but cry. Often, this happens when I feel hope. Witnessing someone’s radiant strength is all it takes to fill my eyes with tears. I have enjoyed many intimate moments with lovers crying tears of gratitude, an expression of my appreciation for their contributing to my happiness. I have endured many cold moments with those same lovers crying tears of grief. When there was conflict, I would share their anger. This was an incredibly confusing experience, one that often led to escalation of the conflict. I know now that I was unprepared to handle the complexity of feeling other people’s emotions in addition to my own. I had trouble separating my feelings from those around me. In fact, it’s still a daily struggle.

There’s an aspect to empathy for which I was especially unprepared. We often think of human interaction as happening only when there is a direct connection, such as physical touch or vocal communication. Even over the phone, we can feel the connection to another person. When I focus on the resonant feelings in myself that mirror those of my friends and family, I start to realize the connection is not dependent on distance. I refer to this phenomenon as empathy at a distance. There are days when I feel lost and frustrated, or angry for seemingly no reason. Sometimes, these are my feelings, things I don’t understand about myself. Sometimes, I’m sharing in an emotional experience of a connected soul. I haven’t yet learned to identify the soul without reaching out to my close friends asking if they’re ok. I’d like to believe I can focus enough to feel their identity as well.

So, if you also find yourself fighting back tears you can’t explain, maybe you have superpowers too. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. And remember to use it for the benefit of others. That is unless you like feeling self-disgusted at a distance.

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