Both empathy and sympathy are feelings concerning other people. Sympathy is literally 'feeling with' - compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally 'feeling into' - the ability to project one's personality into another person and more fully understand that person. Sympathy derives from Latin and Greek words meaning 'having a fellow feeling'. The term empathy originated in psychology (translation of a German term, c. 1903) and has now come to mean the ability to imagine or project oneself into another person's position and experience all the sensations involved in that position. You feel empathy when you've "been there", and sympathy when you haven't. Examples: We felt sympathy for the team members who tried hard but were not appreciated. / We felt empathy for children with asthma because their parents won't remove pets from the household.
How are these feelings developed? What is the process?
Most research agrees that the ability to feel empathy and sympathy is something that is developed in childhood, at the feet of one's parents and other caring adults.
What happens to the child raised under the care of a parent that is unable to feel or express any modicum of either empathy or sympathy? When the very person who *SHOULD* be teaching these feelings to the child is instead abusive, emotionally, mentally, and physically? This child ends up either feeling EVERYTHING, in excess, or feeling nothing at all, and following in their parents' footsteps.
I am that child.
My mother was that parent.
I spent most of my 18 years at home daydreaming of how to escape the torture. Not only was she abusive, but also ultra-controlling, not allowing many in the way of friends, no autonomy in what I wanted to eat, wear, or physical boundaries.
No one recognized the signs. I have asked. No.One.Knew. Outside of our immediate family, there was likely the recognition that our family was different, strange, unlike others in the community, but no one was allowed close enough to know anything of what happened behind our front door.
Fast-forward a few years, and I began to recognize that indeed we WERE different, and not in a unique way, but in a completely unhealthy way. I began to recognize and question not only how I was raised, but how my mother could treat her children the way she did. Was there no concern that she was injuring her children? Apparently not. There was never any recognition of wrongdoing, but instead a defense..."but that was how we were supposed to punish you!" And "how could you make up those things about me?" And "Who is telling you these things?"
As time passed, I began to mourn.
I mourned my non-existent childhood.
I mourned the mother I wished I had.
I mourned the relationship I thought would develop, but never did.
I mourned the shallow relationship with my father, when he could never defend us from the abuse.
And still there is a hole that a mother should fill.
I have tried reaching out to people over the years.
I have longed for mentors.
I have asked for people to step in.
I almost gave up.
Instead, I have stumbled along, learning the best way I know how.
I read articles and books.
I watch other mothers and how they relate to their daughters.
I apply every bit of psychology I can soak up.
I hang desperately onto the verses that speak of the orphans:
I will come near you for judgment;I will be a swift witnessAgainst sorcerers,Against adulterers,Against perjurers,Against those who exploit wage earners , against those who turn away an alien—Because they do not fear Me,”Says the L of hosts. ~Malachi 3:5
He ensures that receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you gives them food clothing. ~Deuteronomy 10:18I have come to the conclusion that I am an orphan. Though my family lives, I live as an orphaned child, with little contact or care from those who should have been the ones who cared the most for me.
And yet....God has provided a new family for me. And another chance at love. But I still wait for that mom-shaped hole to be filled.