Apologies in advance for the inevitable disorder of this letter, I struggle to get my thoughts onto paper in a well-structured way. Here goes...
I'm, apparently, a wonderful person, according to a few people. I wouldn't categorize myself anywhere near that because I am in fact distant and a little hostile in most situations. I'm told I'm a great listener, and I give great advice, and I have many traits of an empath (that's one thing I can agree on). Since getting involved in the fandom these things have been made very apparent through my interactions with the people I've met.
Sometimes I just ... have to help. Often it doesn't even feel like it's me doing it. I'd compare it to a deep spiritual urge. For quite a long time now I've been the shoulder to cry on, the adviser, the helper etc. etc. Which is fine, I guess. But if that is who I am, why does it feel like something that's been forced on me?
This is hard for me to admit, even with anonymity, but this urge to help has cost me over £3000 of my own money, from helping a total of 5 furs who were in dire situations. On top of that are many hours of advice, counseling, emotional support, and being on hand almost 24/7 in case emergencies arose. I should add that these people were complete strangers to me when I first assisted them.
So, I've established my compulsion has cost me a lot of money, but considering that one of these people erased all trace of their situation after receiving my help (presumably to cover the whole thing up), one of them proceeded to credit two of their friends with a big sentimental journal, while staying deathly quiet about my many contributions, and one of them managed to indirectly tank my relationship, then lead me on as a dating backup afterwards, I've also lost a lot of time, happiness, and emotional well-being. I daresay I've even lost emotional stability. It all messed me up pretty good.
Nonetheless, after all these things passed I continued to do my thing, albeit not on such a grand scale. A helping hand here and there, slightly stressful but manageable.
But lately, I've been experiencing a shift in perspective, and it frightens me. Reflecting on all these things I've done, and what people have come to know me for, I began to observe the way a lot of my friends interacted with me, and the way I interacted with them.
And I realized, things are very one-sided. Not just with one or two people...I'm talking about most of them. I can see that a lot of my friends don’t love me, they love what I do/did. I notice I'm the one they come to when there’s a problem, but not the one to enjoy everyday fun with. People start conversations with me to launch straight into tirades about their problems, people hint at their financial worries hoping my empathy will kick in and I'll be forced to help them, they talk extensively about their passions and interests and who they are but you know what? Not one of them know the same things about me, because they never ask, and they never care. It has become apparent they just need a dumping ground for their mental and spiritual detritus, and clearly I am that dumping ground. Nobody knows or cares what I am outside of the benevolence that they benefit from. Nobody looks into me how I look into them.
When I'm vulnerable I get to thinking of all I've done, and how nobody will do the same for me should I ever need it. And it scares me. Don't get me wrong, I don’t give with the expectation of return. What scares me is how unknowingly willing I've been to put myself at risk for the sake of others. Literally this whole thing is a hole I've dug myself into.
So, I guess the rambling has to end and it's time for the questions.
Is unbridled generosity good? Is benevolence necessarily a good thing? Did I do good things, or misguided things? Would it be wrong to blow these people off? To hurt them even?
I'm sorry if it's difficult to make sense of this, like I said I struggle to get my thoughts onto paper, and there is a LOT here I had to leave out for the sake of length. Feel free to bin this one if its a bit too tricky, just a shot in the dark really. An outside perspective may be all I need.
-Manul (age 23, UK)
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If you’re looking for “an outside perspective” you’ve come to the wrong place because this bear has been EXACTLY where you are—in spades. We are both empaths and we are both people pleasers. I, too, have lost many thousands of dollars helping people. All told, I would say we’re talking $35,000 to $40,000. During that time, I have been used, insulted, and even had a lawyer sic’d on me with possibilities of a lawsuit, and one furry accused me of being a secret police officer who was trying to get him locked up in a nuthouse. Seriously. Sometimes, apparently, such people don’t even realize they are being butt munches. I recently had a writer tell me that my belief that I was an empath was “silly” and he had no clue he had just insulted me. All this for trying to help people. As they say, “No good deed goes unpunished,” right?
So, I guess ol’ Papabear beats you when it comes to feeling like a fool. But, really, it is a matter of learning how to control your empathic abilities and also to learn how not to be a tool while still enjoying helping others. Actually, one powerful device I use is this column. Here, I am free to help and give advice, and because I don’t know the people who write to me, I do not expect their friendship, compensation, or even gratitude (although it’s wonderful to get a thank you letter), and I don’t feel compelled to help them with money or other material assistance. It is, so to speak, a buffer. I get amazing satisfaction from writing “Ask Papabear.” Not sure how you might feel about it, but hey, you could try writing a column or blog, too. Since you’re in the UK, you could have a more British/European perspective that would make your column unique.
Be that as it may, another thing you need to learn is when to say “no” and that it is okay to decline helping someone--especially when that involves someone asking you for money or other material gains at your expense. That’s pretty challenging for people like you and me to do because we want to help others, but the first rule of helping others is that you have to be healthy and happy yourself, and that means being kind to yourself before you are kind to others. For example, you may have noticed I haven’t been writing this column as much lately, and the reason for that is because I only write it when I am not feeling under the weather from my grief over losing Jim. Some days, like today, are good, some are bad and I don’t write on those days.
Here is some good advice on being an empath that includes learning how to shield yourself and cleanse yourself: http://paganandproudofit.com/empath.html.
The other thing to learn is which people are friends and which are not. Don’t expect everyone who asks for your advice to become your friend and, therefore, don’t be disappointed when you learn they just wanted your advice. I dearly hope that at least a few people you know are true friends. A true friend is someone who is there for you as much as you are there for them.
If you learn to do these things in your twenties, you will be about twenty years ahead of yours truly and will be blessed. Being an empath is a gift, and if you learn to be one properly you will no longer resent it (like you’re kind of doing now) and learn to realize that this makes you a special person who is a rarity among human beings, most of whom suffer from tunnel vision and selfishness.
I hope this helps.
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