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The Fine Line Between Sympathy and Condescension


It is normal and very human to assume that when an experience sounds like what we already have seen or heard of, or even experienced for ourselves, that we have become subject matter experts (SMEs). To sympathize with someone going through something that we find familiar is automatic, in most cases, evoking the thoughts and emotions in the individual who is finding the situation to be a likeness to their own experience. We see that another person is challenged in a way we have been challenged, so we believe we know how they feel about that challenge.

I must be other. An outsider who will never be understood, no matter what happens. I do not experience the same emotions in the same circumstances as other individuals. It took me a long time to realize this, to be quite honest. Decades, actually. I find others trying to expend their energy on my behalf in the emotions they themselves feel about said situation is… condescension. They didn’t ask me how I felt. They assumed we are two birds of a feather altogether and that I must feel a certain way because that is how they would feel about it. Alternatively, they are a SME. They’ve heard it all before and now they are an expert and can tell you what to do to fix the problem.

You can’t fix my problem, stranger. You don’t even know how I feel about my problem. Sometimes, I don’t even know how I feel about my problem yet. Somehow, when their emotions are projected toward me, I recoil. That is not how I feel. I don’t always choose to have feelings about problems. They’re just challenges to overcome and grow from. There is no reason to be angry or frustrated or upset. Upset is my favorite word when it comes to lack of equilibrium.

The word ‘upset’ is a gem in the English tongue.

Definition of upset:

verb

  1. make (someone) unhappy, disappointed, or worried.
  2. knock (something) over.

noun

  1. a state of being unhappy, disappointed, or worried.
  2. an unexpected result or situation, especially in a sports competition.

It covers pretty much everything negative one could feel about anything, the word upset. I don’t have to define which kind of negative vibration I’m feeling in the moment, just that I am feeling it. I want people to understand their actions are causing me to feel the negative vibration. They can then choose to cease causing the negative vibration or they can choose to continue, which will lead me to create a hard boundary to enforce and exile them from my life so that I may come back to equilibrium.

I don’t need other people as much as they need me, I’ve come to realize over my time on this Earth. If I am left to my own devices 100% of the time, I can achieve zen. In fact, it is very easy for me to do so. Unfortunately, I have been ‘blessed’ with an entity I’ve named Shadow — I named him thus because he will give me a new name every hour to call him by and none of them are the right name, unless all of them are the right name. He’s like a cat, wily and willful. Or maybe like Wile E. Coyote. Regardless, he has been invading my solitude for over a year now.

I have not been alone for more than two hours this whole time. He tells me it’s because he worries I will suicide. That’s a real thing to worry about, I suppose. Until one takes into perspective that I want to suicide because I am not alone with myself in order to take care of my emotions appropriately.

I have been named as the kind of person who overreacts to situations. A person whose emotions are stronger than the situation warrants them to be. I find this synopsis and assumption to be false. I only ‘overreact’ when people are not listening to me. I rationally explain how I feel and why, although some of it is implied rather than stated explicitly because other people find it too harsh to communicate in a blunt and direct manner. I beat around the bush to satisfy the feelings of other people. And then, because I beat around the bush instead of just beating the bush itself until all the vermin run, it is ignored.

How dare you?! How dare you fucking human beings who would do this to me? I try to be mindful of your feelings, I try to deliver the information with tact and diplomacy, and you fucking ignore it like a shithead. Here’s my goddamn message:

I’VE BEEN RAPED. HUNDREDS OF TIMES. AND NOBODY FUCKING CARED.

THEY ABANDONED ME.

You know where the door is. You can do the same. Or you can be brave and take my hand and understand. The choice is yours.


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