Friday, August 12, 2011

Sympathy, empathy, and overworking a post

In I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power BrenĂ© Brown writes about the difference between empathy and sympathy.  People who are reaching out for empathy are looking for someone who will really hear them and understand what they are saying and relate to it through their own experiences.  A typical empathetic comment would be, "I know what that's like, I've been there, it's difficult," or, "We all feel that way sometimes, it's normal.  You're okay."  People who are seeking sympathy are saying that they are especially victimized, that no one else understands the pain they are going through.  A typical sympathetic comment would be "Poor thing, that has to be so hard." Or even, "I can't imagine, how terrible."  Most of us feel annoyed by sympathy-seeking, she says, because it feels like manipulative attention-seeking.

Judging by the comments on my last post, I'm afraid that people read it as sympathy-seeking, and I'm really sorry that it came out that way. I really overthought and overworked that post, publishing about three versions (sorry RSS feed readers) before settling on what was published yesterday.

It actually wasn't meant to seek sympathy or empathy as much as it was meant to be a comment on the mixed messages we get about weight and physical activity. "People who are overweight just need to get up off their butts," we hear on one side, but the endurance athletes quoted in the article on the recent deaths and discussing it on the forum seemed to blame the people who died for participating in an athletic event while overweight.  I wanted to talk about the fact that there is a point in between being out of shape and being thin where you may actually still be carrying extra weight and yet be well-conditioned. I was actually afraid that race directors and others might start making arbitrary decisions about who is fit enough to participate.  And on a larger scale, the post was meant to talk about our weird relationship to tragedy.  There is this sense that if we do everything right, nothing bad will ever happen to us.  The only way to avoid risk is to do nothing at all, which carries its own risks.

Ironically, though, as I was working on the post, I kept "defensively blogging" (as Shauna and Jennette) trying to make sure that people would read it the right way.  I noticed typos and grammatical errors after hitting publish and edited to avoid looking like I didn't know how to spell or use the English language.  I added the part about actively trying to lose weight to make sure readers didn't think I was in denial about needing to lose twenty or thirty pounds.  Today, I used strikethrough to edit the post so that maybe it would be read the way I originally intended it to be read.  My husband told me a joke yesterday that probably captures what I'm doing here:

Knock, knock
Who's there? 
Control freak -- Now you say, "Control freak, who?"
Any post I put out there is an opportunity to be misunderstood, but I'm hoping that regular readers will understand that though I do have my moments of body shame just like everyone else, in general, I'm a normal person who has a mostly healthy and realistic self-image.  It probably sounds like I'm struggling a little more than usual right now, but I think it's because I'm taking more risks and reaching out past my comfort zone.


3 comments:

  1. loved the knock knock joke.

    I understand where you're coming from. We put ourselves out there on our blogs like we would never or rarely do in real life. Sometimes what we write might be perceived the wrong way, or we may just feel like it's perceived the wrong way by someone's comment (which we may be take the wrong way, too).

    I know you're not looking for an affirmation with this post, but I'm giving you one anyway. I think you come across on your blog as intelligent, thoughtful, introspective, and continually striving to improve. You do not come across as judgmental or argumentative. I almost always come away from reading your posts with new insights or something to ponder.

    And I agree that you can be a hell of an athlete even with an extra 20-30 pounds on your body. Plenty of thin people are in horrible shape, both externally and internally. Naysayers about overweight people participating in triathlons and marathons can suck it. :)

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  2. I'm coming late to this article, but I have to comment. You wrote:

    "Judging by the comments on my last post, I'm afraid that people read it as sympathy-seeking, and I'm really sorry that it came out that way."

    I am so sorry that some people responded this way. I didn't read your posts that way at all! And people who come back at others with accusations of "sympathy seeking" etc. are not the kind of people I want to be around. They have no heart!

    You have nothing to apologize for, and you are right on target with what you are saying:

    "It actually wasn't meant to seek sympathy or empathy as much as it was meant to be a comment on the mixed messages we get about weight and physical activity. "People who are overweight just need to get up off their butts..."

    And those are the kind of toxic people that I avoid like the plague. I grew up in a huge housefull of them, and "never again."

    America loves to put down everyone, for any reason at all. I've lived in other cultures which are much more kind and much less cruel. Americans don't realize just how harsh and judgmental they can be, but making war on other countries must keep us that way.

    Keep on posting; you have nothing to be defensive about. Thank you, my friend: you are doing good for us all!


    "The winds of grace blow all the time; all we need do is set our sails.
    Dear God please show us The Way.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the unexpected comment. It's nice to feel understood!

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07