Empathy and Depression

Trigger Warning – Mental Illness/Rape

People have difficulty understanding when others have trouble with something that they think they have experienced. Two of the most prominent examples that I can think of are rape, and depression.

With depression, people think they understand because they’ve felt upset at times. Everyone has felt helpless, or sad, or blue. They think that because it was easy for them to stop feeling those things, that those who are depressed are just weak for not doing the same.

With rape, people have sex all of the time. Sometimes they have sex they regret, sometimes they have sex they didn’t really want to have, and so they think they understand rape. Maybe they felt a bit of pressure in the past to have sex with someone, and so they think they can ‘empathize’ with that feeling.

These are mental filters that we’ve set up to process information based on our own experiences. It takes a lot of time and effort and desire to truly overcome these assumptions of empathy. We say we understand someone’s plight because we think we can imagine it, but it’s almost impossible to truly know the pain and pleasures others experience to the same degree without having lived through something very similar – and even then it is not guaranteed. People have different ways of responding to events based on their culture, their class, their race, their gender, their upbringing, and just natural traits such as shyness or aggressiveness.

It’s important to keep in mind when judging others, and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to allow people the benefit of the doubt. To assume that no matter how much you think you empathize, that what they feel about the situation that happened to them is perfectly valid.

Sure, people can be wrong. A person could feel that something that happened was different than what actually happened. Sometimes we confuse ourselves as our emotions and our filters intermingle with reality – especially when dealing with mental illnesses or after speaking to well meaning individuals.

Still, it is real to them, and I think that deserves to hold a bit of weight.

More on Femmedia:

Mental Illness in Gaming Communities – Many sufferers of depression and anxiety are self conscious to admit their issues to others because of the negative reactions they’ve received from friends, family and employers in the real world.

(Role)playing the Victim – Rape victims are, quite often, expected to act in a certain way. Not only are they expected to act in a certain way, but in our society, many aspects of the rape are supposed to live up to a certain criteria.

2 comments

  1. Jumwa says:

    So much of this is a failing of our language. Words have power, and sadly we use a lot of improper words, or just have a lack of distinction. When one can be called depressed because they are having an off day, and also be called depressed because they have a neuro-chemical imbalance that is forcing them into long term, uncontrollable mental issues, you know your words are failing you.

  2. [...] Empathy and Depression - With rape, people have sex all of the time. Sometimes they have sex they regret, sometimes they have sex they didn’t really want to have, and so they think they understand rape. [...]

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