“What Happened to You?”

By Keira De Vita

For what seems like ever, women have been called ‘emotional,’ and ‘oversensitive;’ passed off as “typical female behavior” and held back from jobs or opportunities. In history class students are taught that women would: gather berries, weave, and take care of children, and later: take care of the home, care for the children, and aid in upholding the family social status. Within the last century a shift in roles just began to become significant enough to call change. Importantly, history unfortunately stereotypes men as ones in society who do not show emotion where women show too much. Whether this is true or not (maybe astrology is real), since childhood, I exist with strong emotions (I am a pisces).

Growing up with an upbringing that encouraged the expression of feelings, I quickly learned what emotions are (and I am forever grateful). My elementary school provided young children with knowledge on how to solve problems, and in second grade, how to empathize with others. Through all the lessons from my younger years I still feel like I am the only one who understands emotions, who can empathize and help others. 

Winter hit this year and everything feels like it has changed. All my peers change and become unrecognizable. Trendy summer and fall wear faded out, the sweats and hoodies came out, and everyone’s faces’ melted as a sorrowful frown seems permanently frozen across their once joyful faces. Only until the sun hits and the calendar flips to April and May will this possibly be able to disappear. Being so close with a multitude of people this has happened to me and I stood by them helping in any way possible. As the hard couple weeks hit, something within me changed. In attempts to resonate with how the people around me felt I tried to stand in their shoes, really understand from their perspective how they were feeling (empathy), and in the process I believe I became too empathetic…? I changed and momentarily gained a taste of winter depression– it was not fun. At a certain point I was bluntly asked “what happened to you?”

The possibility of empathy and the need to help my peers through their emotion actually hurting myself (or other people in my shoes) never occurred to me. Only once I experienced it this year did I begin to question the role of empathy in a teenage girl’s life– my curiosity exploded once I found “Being Empathetic is Good, But Can Hurt Your Health”, an article in the Washington Post by Jennifer Breheny Wallace. Wallace highlights recent studies that suggest maybe “[there is] a cost to all that caring.” It has been said that once people feel seen or heard by a peer, that that is when a trust can be established, expressed in the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Though essential throughout society, this stresses the importance of constant empathy– a constant of most anything can become a stressor to humans. The article by Wallace highlights studies among various professors and Universities who express the positive adolescent development resulting from highly empathetic parental figures or peers. But Wallce snaps back, signifying the effects to those highly empathetic parental figures or peers. A study from Health Psychology  ultimately found that “Parents who readily engage with the struggles and perspectives of others may leave themselves vulnerable to additional burdens, expending physiological resources in order to better help others.” UK Therapy Guide (completely separate from the article published by Wallace) even suggests that when levels of empathy are evidently constant or nonexistent an empathy disorder can be classified and diagnosed (hyper-empthy syndrome and empathy deficit disorder).

In attempts to foster an empathetic and caring, yet boundary-setting society a level of emotion and empathy regulation should be made clear. Most clearly, empathy is an important trait to obtain knowledge about, but too often it is pressed among the female population to experience feelings, and if you don’t feel them you are made to feel poorly about it, almost outcast. Today, a large change can be accounted for as awareness begins to grow. Shifts in “normality” of emotions can be seen among men, recognizing that it is ok to feel, and it is ok to be. The stereotype of the “overly emotional women” IS harmful; but then again, I am a female pisces, what do I know?