There’s been something on my mind that’s been bothering me a lot, but I’ve hesitated posting about it because it makes me sound like a terrible person. But I’ve always aimed to be honest on this blog, so I’m not going to make an exception this time.
A few weeks ago, I made a new online friend. She’s in a severe depression right now due to receiving some bad news. She was so grief-stricken she had to go into the hospital and get treated for her depression. Since then she’s been confiding in me by email, because she’s too shy to publicly comment about her situation. For about a week or two, we corresponded almost daily. Our emails to each other were long and deeply personal, and they proved therapeutic for me as well as for her.
I’m no therapist, but I’m always willing to correspond via email and try to direct people to the proper resources or actually help them directly if I can. I felt like I could relate to this woman; I identified with a lot of her issues. She said she felt the same way about me. I began to think of her as a friend, someone I cared deeply about, even though we never met and we’d only been corresponding for such a short time. I felt a great deal of empathy for her situation. These empathic feelings are something rather new for me, because only recently I was too busy working on my own issues and trying to recover from my own trauma that I didn’t have the time or inclination or even the ability to really be able to empathize with anyone else. Lately though, I’ve been rediscovering the empathy I possessed so much of as a child, and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing. I want it to keep growing because it makes it easier for me to connect with people and makes it possible for me to be authentic and help someone else in need, which is what I’ve been aiming to do more of.
My new friend told me that writing to me helped her a lot, and I was extremely touched by this. I told her she was helping me too, which is true. I began to look forward to her emails, because, well, the things she told me made me feel good. I felt my ego puffing up with pride like a loaf of baking bread. I began checking my inbox several times a day to see if there were any new emails. I was getting a little obsessed, to be honest. I was jonesing for that feeling of being needed, of feeling like I was important to someone, of knowing that someone I liked and cared for valued me that much.
I haven’t heard back from her in a few days. Now I’m becoming insecure and hypervigilant and wondering if I said something wrong or overstepped her boundaries or if she just got tired of writing to me. I kept reading over our emails trying to find anything, any hint at all, that I might have said something offputting that ran her off or made her want to stop emailing me. I found nothing but obsessively, I kept looking.
After 3 days of no correspondence, I finally emailed her again. I was extra careful not to sound too needy, and because she’s so fragile right now and came to me for help (and not the other way around), I tried extra hard to not to project my own “stuff” into my email to her. I read it over several times and it sounded alright to me, but I still worry she may be able to pick up on my neediness.
I realized with horror that my worry about her possibly abandoning me was more powerful than my concern that she might have had to go back into the hospital (or just couldn’t get online, or was busy, or whatever). My insecurity made my email sound more stilted and less natural than usual. I no longer feel like I can be as open and honest, because of my own stupid fears of being offensive or overbearing and making her think badly of me. It isn’t her fault I feel like this–it’s my own ego getting in the way of the real empathy I have for this person.
This happens to me all the time, and is one of the reasons I’ve sometimes thought I’m actually a narcissist. Everything is always about me, my ego, what other people are thinking about me, am I being validated, am I still valued by them, are they going to leave me, do they secretly hate me? Even when all the evidence is to the contrary, I still look for the microscopic speck of dirt in my bowl of ice cream–and always find it even though it isn’t really there.
Yes, I do have empathy–and a lot more of it has been freed to me lately–but when there’s any uncertainty or insecurity and I begin to feel hypervigilant and paranoid. I start fretting that maybe I’m being deliberately ignored or God forbid, abandoned, and all that wonderful, healing empathy I’m learning how to use goes flying out the window and everything becomes all about me and my stupid ego again.
I still care about this individual and want to help her, but I want my empathy to flow naturally and my ego to stay out of it, because all that does is fuck everything up. I’ve been praying for this to change, because how can I ever really be of help to anyone else if I’m always worried about what other people are thinking about me? This isn’t about me; it’s about her and trying to help her heal, not getting some sort of ego boost for myself.
I’m not going to email her again. I’ll just wait now, and if I never hear from her again, I can live with that. Maybe she got what she needed from me–the encouragement she needed–and that should be enough. I hope she is okay.
If nothing else, then I have learned a hard lesson about pride and ego: pride comes before the fall. True empathy requires humility and the ability to set your own ego outside the door.