I wonít lie to you, even before I actually had a drinking problem, empathy was a relatively strange concept in my book. And while you may not start out as self absorbed and at times as highly selfish as me, alcohol will develop that negative side of you over time. You see, among the ranks of alcoholics, many of us had the traits of dependent personality before, but they were channeled towards different directions.
Iím talking about a preference for the different and deviant behavior, the feeling that weíre unique and misunderstood, the lack of interest in†other peopleís problems (because naturally, ours are much more complex and important), etc. I didnít think these traits constituted personality defects even for one second, because hey, they made me who I am.
Why is this Philosophy Erroneous?
First of all, self absorption tends to shift the blame for our misfortune onto others. Itís definitely easier to accuse another individual for his actions as long as you donít try to put yourself in his shoes and see things from his perspective. The lack of empathy makes a person perceive people as automatons and, when something goes wrong, they are at†fault. They are wrong. They are the reason you failed. In short, youíre perfect and itís all societyís burden. Need I remind you that this attitude will prevent you from taking control of your life and improving yourself?
Sympathy Versus Empathy: Whatís the Difference?
These two concepts are not, as some might think, interchangeable. To put it simply, you can express your sympathy for the tragic events in a personís life Ė the death of a loved one, being fired from his dream job, etc. Ė without actually trying to understand how he actually feels even for a split second. Sympathy is nothing more than concealed pity and your ability to determine the unpleasant events in that personís life as well as their consequences.
On the opposite pole, we have empathy, which implies a deeper emotional connection with your interlocutor. Being empathic with another person means that you can actually adjust your mindset to theirs, comprehending their perception of the negative events in their life and their perspective on things.
The Two Concepts in Practice
To exemplify, let me use two examples. I was chatting with an old friend who was always able to stay on the straight and narrow path, remaining a social drinker. While he did in fact express sympathy for my problems, he couldnít understand what addiction really implied because he was unable to conceive not being able to refrain from drinking outside social contexts. The second example consists of the discussions in my support groups, where recovering alcoholics such as myself share stories that can easily be related to and have a deep and personal understanding for the struggles I often underwent post rehab.
Why Do You Need to Develop Empathy in the First Place?
In addition to realizing that you are unique JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, empathy allows you to resolve interpersonal conflicts much easier and opens up new lines of communication. At the same time, empathy melts your self-absorption and transforms you into a better person, as it opens oneís eyes on a whole new level. Trust me, itís worth it!