this study that was recently published, female Fibromyalgia patients have less of a neural response when seeing others in pain (we are less empathetic). Now, I read this and I was surprised for a moment. I think I'm a pretty empathetic person. I hate to see others in pain, if someone else starts crying I'm pretty likely to cry right along with them - even if that someone is in a movie and I don't know them, and they aren't real. After reading the study abstract I said out-loud "That's interesting", to which Paul asked what and I told him what I'd read. His response was "Yeah, it's true."
I was a little hurt at first, but then he went on to explain what he meant. He pointed out that whenever he's sick or in pain I'm very quick to comment "Yeah, well I deal with that all the time." or "Now, imagine what it's like to deal with that 24/7.", rather than acknowledge his pain and how much it is hurting him at that moment. I had to admit that he was right, that I do do that. And try as I might to put myself in his shoes regarding that point, I couldn't really do it. I could apologize for being that way, but I'm not sure I know how to change it.
What I can't help but wonder is, is it possible to empathize with people that we don't see in an equal or worse situation than ourselves? I mean I can look at a friend in the hospital and see her pain and I feel terrible for her... To some degree I know what she's dealing with, but at the same time I've not been in a situation that bad so I know she's got to be in a lot of pain. When I see my Fibro friends talk about their current pain levels I can empathize because I really do know what they are talking about and I know how bad their pain is.
Sometime last year Paul had some sort of abdominal issue. He's had a recurring pain over the last few years that I'm pretty sure are gallbladder attacks. When this happens to him I do empathize. I've been there and I know how painful that is. I hate to see it and I would do anything to take it away. When I can see his pain I feel it. But, when it's a crazy leg cramp or a headache or a cut or any other pain that I see as something small, I can't empathize. When it's a sinus infection or a cold, I can't empathize. I know to some degree that's just part of being a women and him being a man (or so the tv would lead me to believe) - that men make a bigger deal out of small pains that women just work through because others rely on us. But, I do think that probably dealing with Fibromyalgia has amplified that to some degree.
It's hard to empathize with others when their pain level is moderate and you know it will be short-lived, when you look at them and can't help but think... if they are in this bad of a shape now, there's no way they could deal with living in my body. At the same time I think it is a bit of a two-way street, it's hard for them to empathize with us after a while, when they've seen us in pain for so long that they can't really tell when we are in pain or when we aren't, because it's a constant state of being and we learn to represent ourselves as "ok" even when we aren't.
photo credit: Beaulawrence via photopin cc