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Does Empathy Kill Creativity?

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.

Empathy Creativity

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.

Published inInspirationJay LongWriter's Life

3 Comments

  1. Good words mate. I’m curious though, does EGO kill creativity? Can there be creativity without ego? What would an example of that look like?

    • Thanks Jay – to answer your question, or at least my opinion of it – I don’t think creativity needs ego. I actually think most artists are vulnerable to their own criticism. For that reason, I think many keep their work hidden from public view. I know for me, when I first started posting my writing a few years back, I was just happy when anyone liked it or shared it. I soon found out others connected with my words and that gave me confidence but not ego.

      One who I think fits that mold is Kurt Cobain. I’m not a real fan of his but I think he was one of the most humble of stars and didn’t really embrace his celebrity. And I think that’s a big struggle he had..keeping the two sides of him separate.

  2. Carolyn Carolyn

    Well I’m an empath too and it has led me into some heart wrenching relationships, I am on the journey of trying to write a book about the entire holistic experiences to help others but the following is a poem about one of those defining relationships in my life.

    IGNORANCE WAS BLISS

    A lifetime ago,
    everything appeared brighter.
    Little then did I know,
    ignorance made life lighter.

    Each day now goes past,
    weighted down by the truth.
    Adult wisdom mine at last,
    but now miss the innocence of youth.

    Trying to find my way,
    he appeared and we grew near.
    I didn’t know how I’d pay,
    surviving a live of life of fear.

    First beating was the worst,
    I’d learn his ways fast.
    Educating me to his curse,
    ignorance to violence now well past.

    Controlling every part of me,
    with his fists, verbal, mental and emotional abuse.
    The woman I used to be,
    slowly dying from his misuse.

    Staring in the mirror one morning,
    it struck me down like lightening.
    Death in face now the warning,
    to stay ten times more frightening.

    This is the day I decided I had to leave and told him that whether he sent me out in a coffin, an ambulance or let me go so I could be a mother to our daughter. I left and years later realised he played a bit role in showing me the courage to confront the sexual abuse and rapes in my past that I lived in denial of for decades. Everything happens for a reason and everyone we love can teach us something, even if we don’t know what that is at that time, it will come back clear as day when we are ready to confront the confrontational traumas of our past.

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