Empathy Without Enslavement

The rise in suicides in our country has been on my mind lately, especially since watching a series that depicted several very graphic and morbid scenes that were tied to an increase in suicide attempts among teens. I have recently blogged about a social media friend that is constantly, as in sometimes several times a day, making passive aggressive comments or vague statements about suicide. In between, he is posting song lyrics about suicide. He has posted about family members he has lost to death, some real and one that was a definite lie. His behavior has cost him several close relationships because he is so totally needy and abusive with his behaviors that he can’t find joy in the present. Obviously, I am feeling frustrated with him. Many times he has been offered treatment. I am a firm believer in never discounting any threat, no matter what. If you tell me you are feeling suicidal or if I get that feeling, I will ask you about it. At that point the person will get treatment, voluntary or not. My husband once knew a female that would threaten to kill herself every time he tried to end their relationship. He stayed with her way longer than he should have. Obviously, he did eventually end it and she is alive and well today. I told him he should have had her committed, but you know in our younger years there was no “Dr. Google” to tell us how to deal with abusive narcissists or mentally ill friends and family members. We paved the way by creating all of the knowledge the younger generation possesses at their fingertips through trial and error. My ex in high school cried wolf too, but I will still behave as if every threat is for real, no matter who it is.  He, while on the phone with me, pretended to shoot himself. Smart he was not, so he forgot to quit breathing into the receiver. He was rewarded with a visit from the deputies, and a permanent goodbye from me. You see, even an abusive narcissist that uses the threat of suicide to control you and gain attention can become a real threat to themselves. Removing yourself from the equation is the only humane thing to do. If their obsession with you is causing them that much distress, and their behavior is causing you distress as well, get them the help they need and part ways.

When I was in nursing school, back with Florence Nightingale, there was a young woman that had a bad habit of taking a handful of pills and then calling the ambulance (or vice versa). Each time, the ambulance would arrive in plenty of time, and she would be treated and released to her family or put in the mental health unit. It always happened when the rest of her family was not home and she was feeling lonely or needy, so she would get attention and they would get a large bill. Of course her behavior came at a cost for both her family and the community as a whole. It was not a large city and there were times that her calls would interfere with the availability of ambulance services for other medical emergencies and accidents. Unfortunately, her call came in late one night when the ambulances were already in service, the weather was bad, and they had to drop one and run to get to her in time. They did get to her in time, but they ran out of gas, and she ran out of time. Ultimately, her own narcissistic behavior caused her demise. She had no intent to die, according to her family. There was no clinical reason to believe she had intentionally killed herself when she had admitted during her treatment in the past that she was just being impulsive because she did not like to be alone. As caregivers we have to take every threat seriously, and this is just one example why that is so important. Sometimes people that don’t intend to be successful eventually are successful, and most people do not speak of it if it is not circling around in their thoughts. That is why it is so important to seek professional help for your friend or loved one and then take at least one step back and set some clear boundaries. You will listen to them, you do care about them, but you can’t fix them. Every time the threat is there, define your limitations by providing assistance. That may be something as simple as notifying a family member, teacher, minister, etc. of your suspicions, to calling the authorities to do a wellness check.

It is completely impossible to be responsible for someone else’s happiness. We all have issues we need to fix all by ourselves, or with the assistance of professionals. Some situations are so overbearing that you may have to permanently remove yourself, but in most cases it is possible to remain available and supportive without allowing the abusive control of your emotions. In most cases, with help and support, the person can heal if they are willing to work at it. If they do end up being successful at some point, it is important to know you are not responsible and nothing you could do would have changed it. It would not have mattered if you bent to their will and gave them everything they wanted while sacrificing your own happiness. Eventually that would not be enough and they would need a new source of energy to draw from. The best way to be a caring and nurturing person for others is to make sure you never allow an emotional vampire to bleed you dry. If they had the capacity to care for you, they would not use that threat as leverage. From Psychology Today:

Empathy involves not just feelings but thoughts, and it encompasses two people—the person we are feeling for and our own self. To put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we must strike a balance between emotion and thought and between self and other. Otherwise, empathy becomes a trap, and we can feel as if we’re being held hostage by the feelings of others.

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