The first time I can remember feeling the pain in the eyes of another was my freshman year in high school. I had a friend that had a similar home life, single mother with far too much to handle for one person while he fought with the desire to leave home as soon as possible.
The pain I saw was not what you’d expect to hear, the pain was not in his eyes it was in his mother’s eyes. As he verbally abused her in front of me calling her bitch and to shut the hell up with every other word, all she wanted try to express to him is her love. The feelings I saw in her eyes made my chest heavy, it made every breath harder and harder to take, so the struggle to not feel begun.
As a child I had this curse to feel others. Now I’m not saying that there are tears in their eyes therefore I can see that there is something wrong. I’m talking about looking into their eyes and having waves of emotion cover me to the point of me wanting to leave. Over the years I began the task of talking myself out of feeling what the eyes of others told me and to push the “I don’t care” feelings a bit higher. I had it hidden very well with everyone with the exception of 2 others.
The only others on earth that I could not disregard the emotion from was my brother and sister. No matter what, no matter how hard I fought I could not push the feelings away. I moved out in my early teen years due to many reasons I choose not to talk about and that was the last of the emotion from the eyes of another that I ever wanted to read.
Over time with this ability you tend to personalize so much of others worries and fears that you almost lose yourself in what others are feeling. This begun to create a shell between who I was and what others felt and a constant battle took place between what I feel and what I absorb from others.
Now almost 20 years later I have learned that this curse I have been given is a very special gift and if this gift was under control and filtered through my heart and mind properly can be a huge blessing. The gift is called empathy, and not to be confused with sympathy. The gift of empathy allows me to hear someone talk and look into their eyes and feel the emotions they are feeling. Let me clear something up before the confusions starts, I do not feel “their emotions” exactly I feel with an area that I have experienced in my life and that allows me to relate my past emotion to their present situation.
My best example of this happens every day, with my wife and children. I spend a lot of time looking into the eyes of my family hoping to not see an emotion from my past. More times than not I see exactly what I do not want to see. Pain, confusion and longing for more and the battle begins to not personalize it and think “yep, I’m the issue” as so many of us do.
Looking back in history of humanity there has always been the exact same emotions as today. Looking all the way back to the days of Jesus men and women have struggled with the exact same hurts we deal with today. It is no coincidence that we see the same failures over and over as we pass them onto our children and them to their children.
A couple weeks ago my wife and I attended an amazing marriage transforming conference that has set in motion our renewal of our vision for our marriage as well as many other areas we were stuck in. During one of the exercises we were asked to sit back to back with our spouse as we began to hear the soft voice of the conference leader speaking, she asked us to close our eyes. First thought for me was” thank God” I won’t have to look into her eyes right now. As she continued to speak she asked us to picture our partner’s lips, to imagine their nose, their hair, to smell their skin. Then she said it, I want you to imagine their eyes, look deep into their eyes and now I want you to think of what you would do if you never saw them again. Let me tell you, I broke down, not the tear in the eye break down, I’m talking about the sniffles and wet shirt break down. All the emotion I have been suppressing for so long all came to the surface at that moment and my heart broke for what we have become.
People that know me will tell you I do not make eye contact to this day. It has been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, I’m telling you I believe that and struggle with the balance of mind vs heart with this gift of empathy. My first instinct is to personalize it and think “what part have I had in their pain” and I’m finding that the only task that is covered by doing that is removing the gift for what it is intended for, human connection. Today I am hoping that our eyes remain empty of the tears of pain and filled with the joy of what we share and learn from one another. Today I am learning to master the gift I have been blessed with as my daughters face life and my wife and I learn to dance again.