On being empathic and male in South Asia
“I know exactly what you mean,” - isn’t it a surreal feeling when you’re pouring your heart out and hear that from the other side of the line? Letting someone walk through those doors is never easy; and when we do, we are at our most vulnerable. For some, we have this experience once in a lifetime, as it seems; but for other lucky chaps, it’s a confession-room session every week, or day. What is it about people that allows us to confide in or to be confided in?
What is empathy, really?
Imagine you’re looking back at a diary entry and travel right back to when you put the words down. That’s what an empath feels like when you are sharing a piece of yourself with them. We often find ourselves lacking a sense of relativity with male counterparts, friends or family members. Why? Empathy entails the idea of sharing or understanding the feelings of another, and most empaths have similar personality traits which channel the empathy in them. Most empaths are sensitive, and open to listening to people talk about their emotions. Coming back to the main focus of this blabber -- in today’s age, it’s safe to say that we lack empathy. Is it because we have succumbed to the reality of our individualistic existence, or has time shortened itself to make the 24-hours only about eat-sleep-and-repeat? Don’t be disheartened. Not everyone has to be a pillow to cry on; but when the days are lonely and the nights are cold, the least we can do is help each other out, however we can.
So let’s start with how empathy and sympathy are not the same thing at all. Sympathy is a sense of pity towards another’s misfortune or distress -- “pity” being the key word. Sympaths go out of their way to do things for those they sympathize with, like buying gifts for them, or trying to get them to go on dates in order to help them “find happiness”. However, empathy works in a completely different way, where value isn’t derived from the person wanting to make the other person feel good about themselves, but rather letting them have a shared home for their feelings. Empathy doesn’t justify a cause or an emotion, but acts as a vessel to let go of what makes the heart heavy: The feeling of “we’re in this together”.
Whether you are an empath or one who seeks one, remember that someone is not necessarily born an empath; rather, like most traits, it's injected into your stream with external factors that help one grow. I’ve seen empaths start their magical journeys at home. They learn how the people around them deal with emotions and observe recovery treatments. Slowly, this research that starts at home branches out with subjects ranging from the best friend’s mother yelling at her child after school, to couples on the street having public fights over whether the boyfriend had looked at another girl. Empaths come back to their bases to try and comprehend these complex emotions, and try to see them from these individuals’ shoes and mimic those feelings in their minds. The art of creating comfort for others needs years to master.
A dying breed?
I’ve only recently found out that I’m an empath. I have always noticed how friends find a strange sense of home in me when laying out their thoughts, but I never thought I would be classified in a whole group of endangered beings. If being an empath is such a wonderful and giving experience, why don’t we practice it more often? Well, my take is, we often don’t know the bliss of fresh air till we experience the 15000ft altitude in Nilgiri. Meaning, unless we experience the freedom in comfort, we do not know what we are missing out on.
So why are we sometimes scared of empathy? “You will now only support your wife.” - we’ve not only overheard that on Star Jalsha, but have also experienced or listened to stories of this household banter. Being able to understand and rationalize one's feelings over another’s has its fair share of drawbacks. The wife-over-mother issue is one, and another is the risk of outdated and outrageous bullying of being called “girly”. So to “flex” our societal idea of masculinity, we often reject our sense of empathy overall. Now, you may ask yourself whether the guy next door could possibly be the person who reads emotions, but, at the same time we have excuses ready for him not being able to “understand”, since he is a man. It’s a generalized idea at this point that Bengali men, descendants of Rabindranath and the sweetest language in the world, are incapable of being empathetic. But there are countless men who are empaths. Yes, even in the subcontinent; you can take my word for it.
Often mistaken for “delicate”, empaths fall victim to this amazing trait too. An empath opens up to experiencing other people’s emotions and dark thoughts, and sometimes, that itself can be a hazard to their hearts. Absorbing dark energy stemmed from these feelings of the sharer through mutual static can often lead to mental instabilities for the empath. Pretty dark, right? Walking through those doors, hand-in-hand with the sharer, often leaves the empath locked away inside, while the other is set free.
Whether you want to embark on the journey of becoming more empathetic, explore that side of yourself by coming out of utter denial, or want to give that empathetic friend a tight hug, let’s bring compassion back. It’s important that we remove the stigmas that block the power to be sensitive towards the feelings of one another. However, it’s not easy for everyone to be able to pick up this trait from the get-go. It is something which develops in a person with time and interactions, and being open to communicating with people one may not be familiar with. Because, at the end of the day, everyone has a different story to tell, and the need to be heard. Keep your ears open, and arms wide open, because you’ll be getting a lot of hugs.