I have been having rambling thoughts recently about sympathy and my difficulties with it!
I'll start by saying that I do know it is usually a well intentioned thing. (I have never seen ‘too sympathetic’ listed as a vice.) For me however sympathy usually causes a lot of discomfort and a little repulsion - especially and ironically at times when it is probably most warranted.
If I stub my toe and someone is sympathetic - that's fine. I can cope with that. I probably wouldn't call that sympathy. I'd call that an empathic reaction.
It's all the other kinds of sympathy I struggle with. I'll illustrate and explain.....
When my father died, at first people could be as sympathetic as they liked because I was in shock and unable to properly receive whatever people were aiming my way. But I remember there did come a point where I had to brace myself to receive inevitable sympathy (that would happen for example when I saw a friend for the first time since my father had died) as it was like enacting a whole mini emotional replay in a few minutes. I was made to revisit the whole thing through the other person's sympathy - whether I wanted to at that point in time or not.
And then there is sympathy for less tragic life occurrences - like not getting or achieving something you had hoped for or a forced change in life. I can't do sympathy there either. I prefer the person that tells me I, of all people, will be able to cope with whatever the knock back was to the person whose forehead screws up with sympathy. There's an assumption with sympathy that I don't like. The assumption being that you are feeling awful. You could well not be at that point in time - that needs to be respected.
Perhaps I simply have a strong dislike of being 'a victim', perhaps 'suffering' is a very private thing for me or perhaps it is simply that receiving sympathy is rarely what I am in the frame of mind to do - because of its negative connotations. Or perhaps I have an innate stiff upper lip passed down to me through generations of stoical Brits! Unlikely!
I also think there is a big difference between someone being truly empathic and being sympathetic. I prefer the former; it feels more genuine and ‘with’ me rather than ‘at’ me. I can cope with ‘I can imagine how you feel’ better than ‘you poor thing.’
Perhaps I am concluding that people could sometimes be a bit more careful with their sympathy! Or is that just my need? I guess I would like to know if my response to sympathy is personal to me (and others like me) or commonly felt by many. So over to you...what do you do with sympathy?