dietrich von hildebrand empath

Take it from an Empath

6:00:00 AMEvelyn Hildebrand

Empaths hurt a lot.  

They carry a lot of burdens around inside them.  Not because they are vague, sensitive, and emotionally unstable, but because empaths are keenly in tune with other people.  They are apt at entering into another person, understanding what it's like to live inside their skin.

I think that something that just comes with the empath territory is hearing and understanding both sides. 

From a lot of people.  A lot of the time.  

Because I've heard both sides so many times, I am coming to know with more and more certainty that life is most often made up of a whole lot of gray.  Real, certain, obvious blacks and whites are becoming fewer and farther between.

Now is probably the time to say that hearing both sides does not mean that either side is necessarily in the wrong.  At the same time, neither side is necessarily completely in the right.  That's exactly the point of gray.  Some actions on both sides are wrong.  Gray doesn't mean there is no right and wrong - gray just means that rights and wrongs don't occur in a vacuum the way they seemed to happen in second grade.  Every action always has an explanation with  hurt feelings, reasons and mistakes and woundedness riding on both sides.   

A pet peeve of mine is that sanctimonious, looking-down-my-nose tone of voice.  The tone that is adopted for those off color people, those people who get drunk, those people who hook up, those people in the porn industry, all those drugged up, multi millionaire, multi marriage and multi divorce celebrities.

Sometimes, I just want to scream - who do you think you are?  

To put a person in a box called "alcohol," "sex," "divorce," "addict" and then to pretend to be a hundred stories above their head while they are stuck down below, on the dirty and isolated pavement.

More galling to me than the obvious injustice to the person is the attitude of cold remoteness.  Written into every interaction is the undertone,  

"I would never."  

"It's really a shame, the things some people stoop to - good thing I would never go that low."  

"They just don't know any better - but I certainly do."

Do you really know better, though?  Do you really?  You don't know what it feels like.  You just don't.

One failing well meaning people fall into often is something termed by Hildebrand as the "hypertrophy of the will."   Quite a scary diagnosis.  For a person with this condition, his will gets larger and larger, dominating more and more of the person, until feelings, emotions, affective responses are completely suffocated, buried beneath layers of rules, duties, penalties and responsibilities.  A person with this diagnosis feels nothing but the call of duty.

A third type of affective atrophy is due to a hypertrophy of the will.  Here, the dwarfing of the affective sphere is generally something deliberate. We find it in the man who embodies the Kantian moral ideal; every affective response is looked upon with suspicion as prejudicing the integrity of the moral standard, or at least as something unnecessary.  The will purposely dismisses all affectivity and silences the heart ... (1)

Treat “hypertrophy of the will” as a complicated medical term for a much simpler condition.  Hypertrophy - “the increase in the volume of an organ or tissue due to the enlargement of its component cells.”  When the will undergoes this hypertrophy, it expands, outgrowing and overpowering all emotions: what Hildebrand terms the “affective sphere.”  Easy enough.

Kantians suppress their emotions on purpose because they believe feeling happy or encouraged by a decision would make the decision less valuable, precisely by making the decision more complicated.  Feelings might mislead, create ulterior motives, make a decision easier or more difficult to stick to.  Feelings are inefficient and cloudy, so best avoid all together.  

The problem with the Kantian perspective is that people are just too complicated to fit his system.  People are inefficient.  People are cloudy and unsure and maxed out with mixed motives most of the time.  But that cloudy, confusing inefficiency is just part of being human.  Kantian moral philosophy makes people machines.  Easy to clean.  Easy to program.  Easy to analyze.   Kant’s ‘people’ are easy to figure out because they are no longer people.   

We find it again in the man who closes his heart - seals it off, as it were - because he is afraid of affectivity.  Because of a misunderstood religious ideal, either he sees all affectivity in the light of passion or else he fears the risk involved in all affection and in every "being enraptured."  And so he strives to silence and ostracize his heart.  Although this silencing of the heart on account of fear based on a misunderstood religious ideal is undoubtedly a grave self-mutilation, it is unfortunately often found also among pious people with excellent intentions. (2)

Why do well meaning people feel that they  should not feel?  Why are we afraid of ourselves when we are hurting?   

As Hildebrand says, religious people think that the tug, pull, ebb and flow, height and depth of emotion is unholy.  It's too earthly to be happy.  Sex savors of dirt and createdness and creaturehood - and that kind of feeling, so completely bereft of certainty, so vulnerable and naked, clearly must not be of Heaven.    Heaven is sterile, stark and orderly, right?

Religious people think that to have all the answers, you are not allowed to be afraid.  Not allowed to feel hurt.  Not allowed to feel ignored, frustrated or unhappy.  Not allowed to feel sexual attraction.  Not allowed.  Not allowed.  Not allowed.

All those unholy feelings get pushed down, pushed back and pushed away: fearfully, lest they seep through the cracks.

But this fearful pushing away: Hildebrand calls this "a grave self-mutilation."   

Mutilation is an ugly word.  

Describing an ugly reality.  Cutting away emotions and feelings is painful, unnatural and ugly.  Certainly nothing here justifies that "I would never" attitude from 100 storeys up.    

Those people down on the pavement.  The sex addicts.  The porn stars.  The divorced celebrities.  The party animals.   They certainly feel.  Lonely.  Angry.  Helpless.  Happy.  Distant. Turned on.  Complicated.  Confused.  Miserable.  But, at least they own it.  And up on the top of the 100th storey, we smile and smile to hide our miserable.

We are afraid of ourselves when we’re hurting.  

Enough of the 100th storey.  I'm hitting the pavement.  Feeling the emotions - the fearful, alive, unpredictable pull.  Living with arms and heart and eyes wide open to the createdness, the creaturehood, the heights and depths.  Empath life.  The rules aren't changing, but they become more real because regulations melt away and real rules stand out in the middle of much more gray than I'm used to.

It's time to be holy. Whole.  


Evelyn Hildebrand 

I love people - it fascinates me that it's impossible to really completely know another person.  There's always uncharted territory.   I love the ocean - the power that pulls you into a rising wave, the clean, clear curve, the pounding crash when the bubbly crest of a wave hits your feet as you dive straight through.   I love paint - on canvas.  On mason jars. On newspaper.  On my hands.  


(1) Hildebrand, The Heart, 57.
(2) Hildebrand, The Heart, 57.

Image 4


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