The following post was written by my colleague, Jade Rivera. I thank her for her insight, sensitivity and heart.
When my mother passed, I never thought How sad for me or How sad for my siblings and stepfather. Instead I thought How sad for her.
And that’s how the sadness lived in me — as a sadness for her.
And it still does.
I’ve explained this corner of my mourning process to various people who know about my early life — the abuse, the trauma, and the exploitation. Mostly, they all say the same thing: “But why? Why have that care… for her, of all people?”
It’s my empathy, and it’s who I am.
I have a rainforest mind, and my biggest chainsaw just happened to be my own mother. And as crazy as it may seem, I have empathy and compassion for that metaphorical chainsaw.
After living a life that was cut short by drugs, desperation, and mental illness; there are no more chances for her. She’ll never have the chance to heal. She’ll never get to say “I’m sorry” and feel the forgiveness I had ready for her in my heart.
In my rainforest mind I can go to the layer that knows that all behaviors — good, bad, or even abusive — exist to meet a need. My mother’s needs for love and care were not met at various crucial junctions in her life, and because of that, she did not learn to meet mine.
It’s not unusual for gifted people to have this level insight from a very young age. Deep empathy is a common characteristic of a rainforest mind, and I’m no exception. While the compassion I had for my chainsaw mother was automatic and authentic, I now realize that it ultimately contributed to me rationalizing my abuse and staying present in a situation that nearly ruined me.
I also know that it’s my compassion for her that inspired me to let go and get good help to overcome my childhood with love in my heart.
It can be confusing, and it’s absolutely more complex than just this… but I don’t imagine that I’m alone in this duality. These are the pros and cons of empathy.
Your empathy for an abuser (or anyone that has hurt you in some way) may hold you in place for longer than is healthy, and it may also allow you to open your heart, forgive, and move on.
While my healing work will never be over, it’s somehow comforting to know that I have a rare capacity for love and forgiveness. Now, years after my mother’s passing, I have enough self-empathy to know that it’s okay that I stayed… and it is okay that I left.
Jade Rivera is a writer and coach for gifted families. She lives in Oakland, CA with her fiancé and 16 year old cat, Earl. You can learn more about her work at her website.
To my blogEEs: Your comments are welcome, as always. What are your experiences of empathy? Pros and cons? How are you building “self-empathy?” Did you have a “chainsaw parent?” Depending on what you say, both Jade and I will be available to respond. I recommend that you check out her website, especially if you’re raising sweet little rainforest-minded kiddos.