I read a blog post today about studies finding that, rather than feeling no empathy at all, those with high functioning forms of autism feel extreme empathy. It’s something that I’ve talked about before. I know that I feel empathy when one of my roommates is having a rough day and I feel just as bad as she does because she’s feeling bad. I feel the pain that she feels. I know that I feel empathy when someone’s crying, and I start crying too. Most people call that being a “sympathetic crier”. In reality, for me, it’s because I feel their pain or joy, whichever is the cause of them crying. I feel what they feel deeply.
In some situations, this makes me a better friend. In other situations, it’s so intense that I can’t function. Even writing this now, my eyes are a little watery.
The trick, I’ve found, to showing empathy when I’ve become overwhelmed by the emotions or when I don’t know how to react is fairly simple. If I can’t help them and show them that I care this very second, I will do something special for them later.
Last week, I saw one of my roommates crying at lunch. She already had friends around her, consoling her, but when I saw the pain in her face, my heart hurt for her. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what I could do to help. I was lost, and I felt her pain without even knowing why she was crying. I just kept walking and decided that I’d ask her about it in a more private setting later. I feel more comfortable dealing with emotional things in a one-on-one setting, and I feel it’s more polite to the other person. Later that day, I found myself in Starbucks, and decided that, even if I don’t have the words to show her that I did notice and I do care, I can give her something that speaks for me. I got her a Starbucks drink, and made sure they put her name on it. As I was walking to the gate to get back on campus, I saw her walking out. I held the drink out so that she could see her name on it, and I told her, “See that name? It’s yours. So, no more tears, and tell me what was wrong later.” She responded by saying, “Thank you. I been done crying, but I’ll tell you when I get back.”
Even if I didn’t handle the situation immediately or normally, I was able to show my roommate that I care about her and her struggles. She understood that giving her something and giving her time before she told me what was going on was my way of caring about her.
I’ve found my own special way of showing those I love that I care about them. It’s not always easy, but it is possible. You can find your own unique way to show that you care too. And because it’s unique to you, it makes it all the more meaningful.
Link to my other post about empathy and emotion: