As a storyteller, I have always been able to throw myself into any given situation. When I was younger, I didn’t know exactly why that was or even if it was a thing. As I grew older I came to understand I am what is officially known as an empath. And because of this, I have always been very in-tune with emotions and situations. It truly has its benefits and unfortunately, its drawbacks as well.
What Is Empathy?
To better understand empathy, we first need to understand what it is.
By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
To break it down a bit, empathy is the understanding of another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from his or her point of view, rather than from your own. Think of it as putting yourself in someone’s shoes.
Being An Empathetic Writer
As you can see, the benefits of being empathetic as a writer, storyteller, poet, etc., would have its upside – a connection is key when trying to paint a picture with words. If you are faking it through a scene or a piece written from the heart, the reader will pick up on it right away. How many times have you heard someone say, ‘it’s like this was written for me?’ That’s because when something is written with an understanding, it resonates with many, not just who is writing it. When the writer and reader become one through a piece, you cannot go wrong.
As stated earlier, being an empath also has its drawbacks as well. I speak for myself when I say this but because of awareness, I fall prey to stressful situations as well. I take on the upsetting nature of whatever it is I am experiencing or even an experience someone close to me is a part of. During times of high levels of stress or extended periods of stress, without relief, I find myself shut off to the world. And this is where the argument of this article comes in – Does Empathy Kill Creativity?
For me, the answer is Yes and No. That is because I feel so strongly. Let me explain. We are equipped with a fight or flight response for every situation we are put in. When the body is under a much higher or prolonged level of stress than accustomed to, our inner voice shuts us down. At least mine does. That is the flight aspect kicking in. Although stress can be a hindrance, the beauty of it still lies in waiting. Empathy doesn’t necessarily kill creativity, but rather puts it on hold until the mind has rested.
There is a silver lining with everything. Stress, and taking on the strong feelings associated with it, can lead to some of the most wonderful soul searching moments for me. I am thankful for the gift I have to feel – to understand – to be able to put myself in someone’s shoes. Some of my best pieces have been written as I tell the story of a stranger I have met, or the couple I have seen from a distance talking, fighting, embracing, walking away. At the same time, I have pulled from the wreckage of a terrible situation beautiful, inspiration filled writings. That’s empathy – the ability to feel and understand a situation for what it is – not what we hoped it would be.
I have said for as long as I can remember, ‘I write from the highest of highs and the lowest of lows – there is no such thing as the middle of the road for me.’ I connect with everything. I observe the people around me. I take in all of my surroundings. My mind calculates details and creates scenarios based on what it feels not just what it sees. Some feel empathy is a burden. I feel empathy is my gift. Writing is my way to pay it forward for those who cannot turn happiness into words or pain into poetry.