I have a question regarding emotion or personality. I would consider myself a caring person. However, I don’t think I show it very well. If I make a mistake and hurt somebody, I say I am sorry because I am sorry. But still, people don’t think I am.
It is not just about apologizing to people. It also happens with the death of a person. For example, my great-grandmother’s “boyfriend” (not married but lived together for 10 years) recently passed. I didn’t really have any emotional connection with him, nor did I ever really have much to say to him (he was bad at hearing too). I felt sad for my grandma, but I felt numb. I felt like I was going through the motions. I truly was sad for her. I don’t know how to show it. I don’t know if this is considered a lack of empathy or if I am just a bad person.
Am I unintentionally committing sin? I really do care about people, but sometimes I feel like I’m just faking it, even when I know I’m not. Any advice on what to do in order to be better at empathy and showing it?
Thank you for your time.
Sympathy is feeling sad for another person’s hardships and sorrows. Empathy is sharing the same feelings as the person who is suffering usually because you have had a similar experience. In the case of the death of your great-grandmother’s boyfriend’s death, you can sympathize with your great-grandmother regarding her loss, but you can’t empathize because you have not had a similar experience. In addition, you weren’t close to the man, so you didn’t have the same emotional attachment to him as your great-grandmother had. A third problem may rise if you are a follower of Christ. People living together without being married is a sin, so it is more difficult to feel compassion for a situation that was fundamentally wrong.
It is common for people who are hurt to reject expressions of apology. The problem is that far too many people in this world lie. Words are easily offered, but for most people, words have no meaning. To counter this, words have to be matched by action. Let’s say you accidentally bumped into someone and sent them sprawling. If you say, “Sorry!” and run off to continue what you were doing, then your words will appear to be meaningless. If you say, “Sorry!” and then help the person back up and ask if they are alright, then you matched the action to your words and you will be seen as sincere.
Going back to your great-grandmother, the relationship was wrong, but she is going to miss the companionship of this man. You can offer to stay with her for a few nights so her house doesn’t feel as empty. You can just be there and listen to her stories about the past so that she is left with pleasant memories. The sorrow is hers and you can be sorry that she is experiencing sorrow, but no one is expecting you to grieve. What people expect is that you are respectful of the grief of other people.
God wants us to be tenderhearted (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12-14). Usually, only after our hearts are broken are they open enough to pour out sympathy for others (II Corinthians 1:3-4). Until we endure pain, we can sympathize, but it is hard to empathize. After walking barefoot down a rocky road, we have more compassion for a neighbor who must travel the same way because he has no shoes. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Have you considered why the Samaritan stopped? Perhaps it was because he knew what it was like to be ignored by the Jews (Luke 10:33-34). Thus, a person who has always enjoyed good health struggles to understand another’s illness. If we never lost a loved one, we may not fully understand the grief of one who has.
This lack of empathy doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It only means you have limited experiences in your life so far.