How to Show Empathy (Without Internalizing Everyone’s Negative Emotions)- iBelieve.com Post
August 10, 2018
One of my nicknames in high school was “Queenie,” short for “Drama Queen.”
I understand that not all women are this way, but I guess I have always been an emotional person by nature. Of course, there were many times where my emotions got the best of me. I was pulled under and tossed to and fro by anxiety, chaos, worry, and drama. I would eventually find a place to release all of those emotions – the theater.
My emotions negatively affected many of my relationships because I didn’t know how to experience and process them in a healthy manner. My feelings controlled me when it should have been the other way around. Perhaps, this drama queen was attracted to drama, or perhaps, I simply wanted to help others weather the storm of their own emotions. Yet in addition to my own mess that I would find myself in over the years, it seemed my life got even more dramatic and chaotic when I allowed others’ junk to pile onto mine. Suddenly, I was carrying others’ baggage including my own. After a while, that starts to get heavy!
Thankfully, there came a point in my life where I cried out to the Lord that I couldn’t do it any longer on my own; it was just too heavy to carry anymore. Jesus found me in my mess, under all of my heavy suitcases, and He set me free from all of the unnecessary burdens that weighed me down. He showed me how to trust Him and surrender my emotionally-out-of-control/control-freak-ways all to Him.
We truly weren’t meant to carry around all this baggage!
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT).
It took time, but I learned how to find rest in Lord. The Holy Spirit helped me cultivate the fruit talked about in Galatians 5:22-23 (especially self-control) and taught me how to tell my emotions who’s boss. Take that, anxiety! Take that, anger! Take that, bitterness! Take that, depression!
Although I knew to run to Jesus when I was emotional, weary, or anxious, if I was around others (whether one-on-one, or my family, or people I encountered at work, or even things I would hear in the news or on the internet) who were going through a dark time or just needed to vent, I still found myself taking on their negativity and anxiety. Why? Because:
I wanted to help them through the struggle.
I wanted to bear their burdens like the Bible says we are to do (Galatians 6:2).
I wanted to show them empathy and put myself in their shoes.
All good things, right? As long as you don’t lace up those shoes and run off with them!
Ultimately, we cannot control the sadness or destruction going on in the world or in others’ lives around us, nor can we control others’ behavior or actions. But we can control how we react to it all and keep our own emotions in check.
Before we become involved in someone else’s problem or emotional experience, I believe the most important thing we must do is to guard our own heart.
Proverbs 4:23 tell us “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV).
We don’t want our heart to become someone else’s dumpster. Considering the heart as the soil in which we bear good fruit (Luke 8:15), we must protect it from negativity, worldliness, worry, bitterness, and anxiety. Those things will only act like weeds and choke out the growth of the seed of the Word of God in your life.
When it comes to healthy interaction in relationships, our involvement in others’ personal problems, and exuding empathy, I think people can fall in certain categories: those in mourning, the pessimists, and the toxic. Depending on which category the person may fall under, I believe we can better understand how the Lord may be able to use us as an instrument of healing through walking in empathy in a healthy manner as well as what our role in their life may be during the hard time.
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