Other-directed Empathy

Other-directedness is what empathy is all about. That’s the ability to feel for another person without any selfish or self-centered motivation, without any motivation of personal distress. This is where the subject of empathy and Borderline Personality Disorder gets a little cloudy I think. Often for those of us that are BPD there’s a constant feeling of personal distress. When we’re emotionally turbulent our ability to feel for another person 100% without some influence of our own situation is likely compromised. This is probably why our efforts to provide comfort when we do recognize someone else needs an emotional shoulder to lean on may come across as slightly off, a little less than fully genuine, or even a little hollow. Often we are so wrapped up in the turmoil that is our emotional instability that we can’t see anyone else’s trouble at all. However, if we can see past our own pain and enough to recognize that you need our support, I do think that counts for something. Maybe not the absolute ideal that you hope for, but we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t care on some level. And that level is going to be pretty significant most of the time.

Now, contrary to the Borderline hype, we are not ALWAYS in an emotionally traumatic or unstable place. These times of emotional lucidity are the times when I do believe it is possible for someone with BPD to display true empathy for another person. I saw this video the other day. I don’t know how up on current events many of you are but I saw this video of the protests in Egypt. 
The story of The Girl in The Blue Bra is incredibly important for women’s rights all over the world, but especially in Egypt, the Middle Eastern countries, etc. where women have so few rights, if any.

When I saw this, I was beginning to write up this blog series on empathy, and as is usual, looking inward trying to assess my own empathic abilities. As soon as I saw this though, I knew, that absolutely it is possible for us to have spontaneous empathic responses. Sometimes I do forget. I can go very numb and feel quite hollow and it’s difficult for me to remember all the times how I’ve felt for other people. Especially since I have a lack of object constancy which makes all events in the past feel like they’ve happened to someone else. Cognitively I know this is not a foreign experience. It’s one I’ve had many, many times. But as this was so visceral I thought I’d use it as one small example of a personal proof.

When I saw this video I was absolutely outraged. My stomach clenched and I was brought nearly to tears of sadness and fury for this woman that I’ve never met, for this woman that I do not share the same problems. Her experience is a violation of basic human rights. No woman, no person, should ever have to experience this. I wanted to jump through my monitor and defend her with my own hands, even though I have no idea who she is. And I would have too. If I saw this on the streets in front of me, nothing would stop me from throwing caution for my own personal preservation to the wind, and not let her fall alone.

I don’t know, maybe it’s silly to use this as ‘evidence’, but when I saw it I know how I felt, and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. It was all about her. 

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