Empathy: The Superpower and the Kryptonite

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Many of you may know who Superman is.

He is a half-man, half-alien that came from the planet Krypton. He can fly and has extreme strength, but even Superman has a weakness: kryptonite.

Kryptonite is a mineral that can deprive Superman of his powers and potentially kill him.

This term has now become synonymous with something that can seriously weaken or harm a person. People with an extreme amount of empathy may view it as their kryptonite. Another brief refresher, empathy is the ability to feel what others may feel, the ability to “put yourself in their shoes” if you will.

For those with a lot of empathy, they may find themselves feeling anxious when a friend is anxious, they may cry if someone they love cries, many may have been told they “feel too much.” Honestly, it is a very vulnerable thing to allow yourself to feel what others feel. When in unhealthy relationships, this vulnerability can be used against them, like how Kryptonite is used against superman. It can drain them of their energy, eventually leading to issues coping with stressors. It can also lead to someone staying in a bad relationship.

They are able to empathize and try to understand the toxic or abusive person, thus trying to help or staying for longer than they should.  However, empathy can also be a superpower, when utilized appropriately. For my Marvel fans, I like to draw parallels between empathy and cyclops’ (Scott Summers) optic blast. When wearing his ruby quartz glasses, he is able to hone is an optic blast to only use it for good. However, without his glasses, he could destroy everything. Just like cyclops, we must hone empathy.

Ways people can do this include, acknowledging how much empathy you have, trusting your intuition, setting boundaries, and maintaining them, and meditation/reflection. By doing this, empathy becomes a way to develop closer relationships with those around you, you may be more attuned to other people’s moods and needs, it also allows you to simply be there and hold emotional space for others. That sounds pretty powerful to me. So, take some time, reflect on your level of empathy.

Is it something you need to learn to guard? Is it a trait you wish to strengthen? Do you need to focus on showing empathy to yourself first?

Written by: Emily Lindberg, MS, LPC-IT, NCC

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