Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Empathy is not Pity

Mr. Webster I need your help with definitions:

Empathy – noun: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes or another.

Pity – noun: 1. sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy. 3. to feel pity or compassion for, be sorry for; commiserate with.

I don’t want to be pitied. Yes, that is not what I have been seeking by writing this blog or by talking about my infertility. I’ve been seeking empathy.

Lets focus on the words. Pity’s definition states: “give relief or aid or to show mercy.” Well, in my opinion most people cannot “fix” my problem, therefore they are unable to “give relief or aid.” And the only one that can “show mercy” is God. The only time that pity is applicable, per the definition, is when another infertile “commiserates with” me. (Please note that I include spouses/partners of infertiles when I say that because they are just as much effected.) Yes, pity is not allowed by people who are not experiencing the same thing. Therefore, if you are not experiencing equals no pity.

Empathy on the other hand is what I have been seeking. Unfortunately, many people never learned to empathize. To put yourself in another person’s shoes and to imagine how it would make you feel, if you were going thru what the other person is going thru. To imagine and understand the other person thru empathy.

My friends, this is what I am seeking from the vast majority of people in my life. Hence the reason, I have shared my blog with some of them. It is that by providing my thoughts, it is a means to provide insight so that empathy and understanding is achieved. Ultimately, I think that is what most people want. To be understood. And, it is really what I have been seeking.

Some people have excelled. They have been able to think about how they would feel if they were going thru the situation. They have been supportive and helpful, by listening. Because, honestly, when you practice empathy that is all you can do.

Others have not excelled. If you can’t empathize, and yes I recognize that some people don’t have that capability. I respectfully request that you attempt the following. Determine that you cannot empathize. If you don’t know what I am going thru and you don’t know what to say. You are not allowed to speak to me about the topic. The only statement you should make, “I don’t what you are going thru, and I can’t imagine.”

Also, if reading this blog has left you feeling pity, and you are not experiencing infertility, than please stop reading. It has not served its purpose, I never wanted you to feel bad for me.

I have a good life. This is only one aspect of my life that I wish it was not what it is. It is life altering, hence why it is currently so consuming to me. Having children is life changing, so taking that possibility from the equation is equally life changing. I am desperately coming to decisions/conclusions about my life and my husband’s. Life altering decisions, not having children is as equally distressing when it is what you thought would be your reality. Coming to another dream of your and your husband’s life is an enormously big deal.

Recently, a friend stated she “pities” me because I define myself by my fertility or my lack thereof. I do define myself by my infertility. If I rationally look at the situation, I know that is not the only thing that defines me. But, put yourself in my shoes, empathize. It really is no different than someone who defines themselves as single or a mother or a cancer patient or a cancer survivor. Ultimately, that is what they see when they see in the mirror. For someone like me, who in all intents and purposes thought she would have the title of mother by now, it is logical that infertile is how I define myself at this point. After all it is the reason why I haven’t reached my desired title.

Also, I don’t expect this to be the case for all times. I imagine with time, when we decide on the next path or something else becomes our reality (whatever it may be). I will view myself differently than I do in this moment. I will determine that I will title myself something else, but I believe I need to get to the step where my husband and I have come to a different dream. A different want for ourselves. Ultimately, infertility will not be the first quality that I see in myself. But, only God and time will help with me getting to that point.

Until then, try to empathize…it can be a valuable exercise, you may find that you need some in your own life.


Unknown said...

awesome, awesome post. You took the words right out of my mouth-only made them all pretty and eloquent! Hope you find peace in your journey/decsions soon.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is a great post! I've been feeling the same way lately and you just happened to express it beautifully. I had a run-in with a "friend" this week and your post has given me an idea on how I can deal with her if she decides to bring up my infertility again. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This post saddens me immensely. I wish you could be so eloquent when communicating with your actual friends and not just in your blog.
I wish you knew how I have been trying for over a year to understand your point of view as an "infertile" as you call yourself(s). As a "fertile" (or so you like to call me) I am hurt by this post and frankly I am exhausted from trying my very best to avoid certain topics or words when talking to you. And since I have come to the realization that I have nothing but pity for you...not pity for your "condition", but pity for how you are now reacting to the world around you.
I don't know why you expect me to be able to put myself in your shoes, when you can't seem to put yourself in mine. You don't seem to want to even try to see my constant struggle to communicate with you and to gain the necessary understanding of your life now in order for us to remain friends.
I have read this post many times and I wish you could realize that although it seems some other "infertiles" agree with you - 2 Wrongs don't necessarily make a Right.

Joei said...

This is a WONDERFUL post, although your "friend" from above does not agree... Sorry, "Friend", you don't have empathy. I have erased what I want to say to you, because it is not very kind, and I'm a kind person.

Dianne, my therapist talked to me a lot about empathy. She said it was not something you could teach to someone, and that it is a gift. It isn't someone feeling sorry for you, or pitying you... These people do not have the capacity for empathy. Empathy is when someone who doesn't understand takes the time to listen and never judge. I had ONE friend (besides all of you guys) that I could talk to.

I am very proud of you for expressing yourself, even if some of your "friends" do not appreciate your honesty, which is what your blog is all about....
I love you, I love you, I love you!!

Unknown said...

Dianna-I too, am sorry for "friends" like that. For them to think that it is exhausting "avoiding" certian topics-I only wish the could experience the exhaustion that comes from the emotional roller coaster infertility causes. And while, yes, two wrongs don't make a right, you are not wrong in your feelings. and this isn't even a matter of right and wrong. We just want some understanding, and, ultimately, some empathy. I'm here for you girl. Lots of love.

Anonymous said...

You always have a knack for putting to words what I think most IF'ers really feel.

By the way (nothing to do with your post), I'm not sure if your blog host does it the same way but if you want to find out how people are accessing your site there is probably some sort of link in your controls to "view visitor stats" or something along those lines. I found that I could view the visitors and there are hyperlinks that direct me back to the page that they came to me from. If they have your page bookmarked it doesn't work but if they come to you from say, BabyCenter or from MSN then you can go back to the page they came from. Good luck- and keep blogging- you have a talent with words!

Anonymous said...

You express yourself very well and eloquently. I coach a high school team, and two of the girls lost their father in a motorcycle accident this weekend. I have been looking for ways to address the team about showing empathy rather than pity, other topics, and also things we can do. Your post has been insightful. Thank you, and I hope you are able to find peace within yourself.

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