Everybody wants to be something they are not. Everybody wants to be better than they are. For regular people, however, this is born of ambition. They want to be more of what they already are.
Empaths are different. Because they are a minor part of the human make-up, the natural instinct of, "I'm not like the majority of people, therefore there must be something wrong with me," kicks in. The desire to be different is not to be more of what they are, but to be something else entirely.
Part of this is because there aren't as many empaths, so they figure their psychology is based on some glitch in the system. The other part is that empaths figure it simply must be easier to not be an empath. For example, watching someone experiencing humiliation, like watching an episode of Jackass, can manifest in actual physical pain for an empath. And that's just watching it -- imagine what it is like for the empath to actually be the one being humiliated, like when certain family members visit just to feed on their self-esteem (at least, I think so. It's not like I would know anything about that). They see how people can operate in a world where things just happen and keep moving without a hitch and wonder why they can't do that themselves.
Like I said, they view themselves as somehow flawed instead of simply what they are.
People gravitate towards empaths for the same reason -- they understand. They get it.
Because people need help.
And empaths are helpers. They want to people to be at peace and be happy, not to suffer.
A long time ago, I heard a person divide people into two groups -- you are either a doctor or a patient. And empaths, by their nature, tend to be doctors.
And it gets tiring. Especially if you are also an introvert, so social situations don't energize you but wear you down faster.
The problem with this is you don't just get genuine people who need help, who are good people who just need a hand and will treat you with respect and keep you in good memory. You also get people who seek to exploit you. They see in you only what they can get out of you or use you to get. While you can defend yourself from these people, keeping them from using you and destroying your sense of self, it's still like standing in a hurricane. When it's gone, your entire world is upended, and you're just standing there going, "...what happened?"
It's these people that usually trigger the impulse in empaths to want to stop being empaths. The idea that, if they could just shut down the emotional part of themselves, they would be bulletproof to an uncaring world. They don't want to be jerks. They just want the pain to stop.
I measure people based on the movie Good Will Hunting. Anyone that watches the movie, shrugs, and says they don't get it, I avoid like the plague. The movie is an emotional punch to the gut, and any empath who watches it will be hit hard. Especially the "It's not your fault" scene -- anyone who has had to cope with abuse, whether physical, mental, or emotional, will find this one of the hardest scenes in movie history to watch. No blood. No humiliation. No terrors from beyond the grave. Just staring headlong into life itself and having to realize that, as much as you believe you can fix things and make things right, it's not your fault that other people break themselves, and sometimes there's just no stopping it from happening.
Art informs and teaches, often without us knowing it. This is the case with Ridley Scott. Blade Runner is a brilliant movie, a genuine cinematic classic. But part of the genius of it is that it turns on a simple psychological truth. Unbeknownst to the world, Scott actually showed the world how to identify people with genuine mental disorders, people that are dangerous. Psychotic. Evil.
It happens early in the movie during the interview with the suspected replicant. I think I was something like ten or other when I saw it (it had come on HBO, and I wanted to see it because it was sci-fi and it starred Han Solo). I didn't watch all the movie, I got bored with it because, well, I was a kid and I just didn't get it -- I wanted to see spaceships and lasers and robots. I loved Battle Beyond The Stars, and I lost interest in Blade Runner pretty quick.
But I did see the interview.
And that has stayed with me my entire life.
For those that don't know, the scene in question features a guy trying to determine if the individual in front of him is a replicant simply by asking questions. Eventually, he begins telling a story about a tortoise in the desert. The tortoise has somehow flipped onto his back. He describes in detail the tortoise struggling. The pain he is feeling as he slowly bakes to death. And at no point, does he have the viewpoint, the person he is talking to, simply flip the tortoise back over and spare his life. He just keeps describing it until one of two things will happen -- either the individual across from him will break down emotionally in pain and empathy, or they will react with violence for being forced to experience emotions they don't want to experience.
And as we all know, the individual reacts with rage and kills the interviewer.
Yeah, it turns out, this isn't bullshit. This is known among people dealing with Cluster B disorders as "narcissistic rage," where the only thing that matters is to stop whatever is destroying the protective shell that sheilds them from emotional harm. A normal person will be uncomfortable during the story, and while you don't have to be an empath, it magnifies the experience exponentially. Decades before Cluster B became a thing, Scott had shown people exactly how to tell who was one and how they behave.
I saw the movie during my formative years. And even as I dismissed the movie afterwards for not giving any BANG-ZOOM!, that story of the tortoise always stuck with me. It would come up through the depths of my mind every few years, and I would quickly tamp it back down because I knew how it would affect me. I would start to tear up. I would feel cold. I would feel horrible.
Only to find out later while I was learning about Narcissistic Personality Disorder that my reaction was the 100% correct response. When you start learning about narcs, you start to wonder if you may be one yourself because, let's face it, we all have days where we are assholes. Or days where we think in the moment that we are just standing our ground and asserting ourselves but start wondering if things would have been better if we had just been more cooperative. We start wondering if we are this monster.
And then I remember the tortoise story. And I realize that, no, I'm no monster. I'm completely normal. I may have made mistakes, but I'm not the horror I imagine myself to be. (For the record, my dad just watched the scene and moved through it, and hasn't bothered to watch Blade Runner more than once, and my mom just acted bored with the whole thing and left shortly after the scene.)
As Christian Slater said in Pump Up The Volume, "Having a screwed up reaction to a screwed up situation does NOT mean that you are screwed up." When bad people come into your life, you go into survival mode, just trying to ride out the storm. When they are gone, you start reflecting on everything and wondering if there was something you could have done differently.
Maybe you could have. Maybe you couldn't.
But thinking that the answer is to change yourself is not the answer. It's always annoyed me that my family expects me to be considerate of their thoughts and feelings -- don't make certain jokes, don't discuss certain subjects, don't talk back a certain way or about certain things because that's not nice -- but they don't have to make any concessions to me. They were joking or they didn't mean it or I'm reading more into it than is there or I'm just looking to make trouble or whatever. It's a one-way relationship where the house always wins.
And the biggest step to healing is when you reflect on things afterwards and instead of going, "I don't want to be me," you start going, "I don't want them to be them."
It's a very small change in mentality.
But it's bigger than the universe.
And leads to more such steps eventually.