Can Empathy Be A Hindrance?
I am struggling with something. I am unable to watch many movies and TV shows that it seems the majority of people enjoy, and I’m starting to feel really abnormal. When I ask friends for recommendations for a great Netflix series to binge or for a movie to escape life with, I get suggestions like: “Handmaiden’s Tale,” “Don’t F*ck with Cats,” “Game Of Thrones” or “Hunger Games”. I watched the first episode of “Outlander,” thinking I found that escape and a friend who knows me warned me to stop. The next 2 episodes, I was told, were filled with some pretty gory violence, including a horrific homosexual rape scene that even they had to fast-forward through. And I thought I was watching a “Somewhere In Time” type of time-travel love story. Geesh!
I have the ability (or, I guess at this point, I realize it is a curse) to be able to place myself into another’s shoes. I’ve learned that this makes me an “empath.” Seeing things from another’s point of view, even if I don’t agree, has been helpful to me in personal and professional relationships. But this ability doesn’t serve me well when I think about what another is feeling when I am watching a violent movie scene. It haunts me.
When I grew up (here comes the proverbial OK, Boomer), the shows on network TV were just not that violent. The world was, but the fake world wasn’t. In fact, I try to take solace in the fact that statistically, the world is better in 2020 than it was a hundred years ago–but our 24-hour news cycle that focuses on death and destruction has many believing otherwise.
A quick sampling of some of my “favorite movies of all time” pretty much gives you an idea of what I consider entertainment. The Sound of Music. Funny Girl, Airplane! Titanic and tons of romantic comedies. My current streaming list includes The Crown, The Kominsky Method, Grace & Frankie, Nurse Jackie, Dowton Abby. and classic TV shows like MASH, Cheers, Frasier, Will & Grace, & West Wing. You get the idea.
What’s wrong with me, that I literally feel anxiety watching a movie knowing what might be coming up; that I can’t watch what everyone else likes? Does not watching these critically acclaimed shows have me missing significant parts of pop-culture? Will I ever be able to answer trivia questions on things that came after 2005? My poor husband has to watch everything he likes when I am out of town. He’s lucky I travel a lot.
I guess what really troubles me, is how can others watch a scene where someone is being tortured, pleading for their life, humiliated, raped, and just munch their popcorn? Are they desensitized? Am over over-sensitized? Is there any in-between?
If there’s anyone else out there that is like me in this way–maybe we can form a support group. In the meantime, suggestions for positive movies, shows, and documentaries are welcome.