2. the update on my personal character quest

June 24, 2007  |  journal entries
I’m having a lot of realizations about the makeup of my own character. Therapy has been a fabulous tool for that (thankfully, I was wary), and having a best friend again that I can talk to, who understands what the hell is going on, who provides insight & is rock solid in her own sense of self & life & experience – I am so grateful for that.

1. Semi-permeable Membrane (scientifically defined here, if you don’t remember 9th grade biology)

I have a tendency to over-empathize with people, to the point of taking on their emotional status over my own. I let things in much too deeply. I feel too hard, sometimes. I am seriously effected by my surroundings. I think it might be why I am so sensitive to clutter & mess, and crowds, and high levels of emotion.

I was thinking about this a lot Friday night, about why it is I take on other people’s emotions & burdens. It’s not because I feel at fault, but somehow I do feel a responsibility to make it better, to help, to support. (More on responsibility later.) And I actually think the reason for that is – forgive the vanity – because I feel like I am incredibly privileged, with a relatively easy life. I’m blessed, loved, taken care of; my parents provided for me; my deficiency needs are, and have pretty much always been (aside from sex, perhaps), met. So I feel some sort of obligation – privilege guilt? – to help others.

In Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, Bodhisattvas take an extra vow of not attaining Enlightenment (Nirvana) before all sentient beings have achieved complete Buddhahood. I kind of think about my empathy, my ‘semipermeable membrane’ abilities, in those terms somehow, there’s a connection.

(I’m still working through all of this. I feel like these are only the beginnings of thoughts/ideas/character trait analysis.)

2. Connection

Because I am so empathetic, I actually tend to connect with people without them knowing I’m doing it. Okay, one could perhaps argue that “connection” between two people has to occur somewhat consensually, and both people have to feel it/recognize it, but considering what I’ve witnessed lately regarding connection (especially forced connection), I think it’s pretty interesting to consider what kind of connections we make on a regular basis, what our ‘default’ modes of operation are, how we work. By which I mean, how I work.

So. I connect with people without them knowing it. On a train, I see someone reading a book I’ve read, and I can read their face their body language their emotional state and connect with them over the experience of reading that book. In a group of people, I listen and watch and observe the stories and tales and conversations before I join in, but that doesn’t mean I’m not connecting with what is going on, what is happening.

Of course, after a certain level of friendship, intimacy, sharing has been established, I fully expect a shared connection, mutuality, two way street, et cetera. But like anyone, I seek human connection, and I get it softly, subtly, from people without ever disturbing them.

3. “Do Your Best”

Not much of a segue here, but this is another piece of the puzzle I’ve been uncovering.

My parents always said they didn’t care what kind of grades I got, as long as I was doing my best. My best, especially when it came to school, is usually pretty much 95% – usually quite successful. It took me until college to learn to balance important things, life against school against work against romance, that sometimes it actually is more important to stay up until 3am with your girlfriend than it is to study for the next day’s test or get to work on time. I would think, “I’m not doing my best,” but really, I was being the best girlfriend I could be (to continue the example), and sometimes that meant sacrificing other less-important things.

My best, though, also has often translated into a sense of responsibility. For example, I sense that someone has a need, and I know that I’m capable of filling that need with very little cost or compromise to myself. So I feel like “my best” would be meeting that need, helping that person.

4. Responsibility

Which brings me to responsibility. I haven’t really figured this one out yet, only that it keeps coming up for me over & over. It’s related to my ‘semi-permeable membrane’ability, and related to ‘doing my best’, but I’m not sure what else is behind the responsibility.

So, more on that later.

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3 Comments


  1. "that sometimes it actually is more important to stay up until 3am with your girlfriend than it is to study for the next day's test or get to work on time"… i still can't learn this or understand this. i am paying for grades, girlfriends come and go, how can time with her be a more important way to spend time… can't she just wait until my school work passes? this has always been a problem in my relationships, girls want to feel first, and and in my life they rarely do.

  2. I have a tendency to over-empathize with people, to the point of taking on their emotional status over my own. I let things in much too deeply. I feel too hard, sometimes. I am seriously effected by my surroundings. I think it might be why I am so sensitive to clutter & mess, and crowds, and high levels of emotion.I do this too. I think that part of it in me is a compulsive need for order, and I feel incomplete unless life is tidy. I nearly always put others first and though it can be detrimental to me I don't often stop. A lot of my happiness is through knowing that I have provided for others in some way.

  3. empathizing is what makes you a good and insightful writer, and what probably makes you a hell of a lover. such a level of sophisticated sensitivity, esp. to emotional ambiance, is enormously valuable and can also be heavy and dangerous. as you know, it's imperative to find and maintain good boundaries for one's wellness. it is possible to still be a "real" and "true" artist and not get completely lost in someone else's experience.

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