Empathy and Emotional Reactivity

I think it’s important to make a distinction between high emotional reactivity, rejection sensitivity, social intelligence and empathy. Many of the people I meet who say they are empaths or HSP seem to be remarkably bad at sensing how I feel. It seems they are mostly very highly emotionally reactive, and they end up projecting their high emotion on me, thinking that what they are feeling must be what I am feeling. They come across as very un-empathic, insensitive and closed off from the world around them. It’s all about them, their feels and it’s almost as if I don’t exist – all while they keep repeating how in tune they are with others.

Emotional Reactivity

High emotional reactivity is a real thing, and could be correlated with high general sensitivity. I’ve noticed how my own emotional reactivity varies, depending on how well I am doing. I remember when I was really tired and kind of worn down from some stuff that was going on, and there was a video of a girl in Syria who cried she didn’t deserve anything that was happening to her. It hit me like a fucking brick. When I am doing well, it’s as if my emotional ‘padding’ is better and I can absord the emotional impact of witnessing emotion in others. When I already used up much of that reserve for my own stuff, the pain of others causes more raw responses in me. It’s when people say they can sense tension in the air when they enter a room, and they have a hard time enduring it.

Emotional reactivity is all about our own responses, our own feelings about what we perceive in the world around us. People who are generally high in emotional reactivity can get a bit caught up in their feels about the feels they feel about the feels they feel exist in others. They end up really far removed from the experiences and reality of others, so deep in their ‘feel festival’ that any chance of empathy is out the window.

People with high emotional reactivity are peaks of ‘being’. They have passionate emotions that sweep over them like a strong wave. They love like an avalanche, their loyalty is unmeasurable. They go deep into the abyss and bring up these wonders of intensity and happiness and pain and craving. When I’m with them and I am present with my own pain, they might crumble, not because they are empathic and sense I am crumbling, but because their mirror neurons work normally but they crumble under the pain they feel from me. I’m okay with my pain. But in them, everything is echo’d and mirrored. And they tell me, tears in their eyes “I can sense you’re dying inside” and I’m like “bitch don’t even fucking even”.

Dealing with someone with high emotional reactivity can be lonely.

Rejection Sensitivity

Rejection sensitivity is not the same as emotional reactivity. I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally feel a whole lot about the people I don’t like. It’s just, you know, they’re people I don’t like and my emotional landscape is filled with other stuff. But people who call themselves empaths sometimes describe how difficult it is for them to be around people who don’t like them, because they strongly feel how that other person feels, and they internalise is, causing them to dislike themselves. But I don’t think this is empathy. What they describe is not just feeling what the other person is feeling (as in, they don’t like you), what they describe is how they’re making it personal. They don’t like me, so I must not be likeable.

There’s nothing wrong with personalising rejection, I think we all experience this. I mean, I know for a fact I feel pain when people reject me. It’s one of the most painful feelings in the world. Internalising this isn’t empathy, because empathy is about the other person. Internalising their rejection is about us, about ourselves. It’s about not being liked, which is a small thing to them but huge to us, and about our own response to that.

I do better at dealing with rejection and people not liking me when I am doing well, when I am in touch with myself and most importantly, when my empathy is high.

I deal better with people not liking me when my empathy is high.

Empathy

I work as a psychologist, a therapist. Part of my job is understanding and feeling into what my client is experiencing, but specifically, what they are experiencing from their frame of reference. It’s about placing myself in their shoes, looking at things from their perspective. I don’t think of myself as a necessarily empathic person. I consider empathy a skill, and I work at strengthening it every day. Empathy is not about me, how I feel or my emotions. Empathy is placing myself in their shoes, looking at things from their perspective. It’s about broadening my perspective and including theirs.

I like the idea of holding space. I like the idea of being space for them, being an arena for the other where they can kind of place it all and look at it, without me adding all of my stuff. Empathy is about them.

When I am high in empathy I can understand why some people don’t like me. I can see things from their perspective, and I don’t bring myself into it. I can see how I hurt them without immediately considering what that says about me or how I feel about me. Empathy is not about my ego or about my needs. From empathy, compassion follows. It makes us a better, nicer person.

Social Intelligence

And then there is social intelligence.

That’s the thing people on the autism spectrum experience trouble with. People with autism can be plenty emotionally reactive, having allll them feels. And they can be sensitive to rejection, just like anyone else. People with autism can be amazingly empathic. But social rules and cues don’t seem so obvious to them.

They seem obvious to psychopaths. Psychopaths lack emotional reactivity or empathy, but they know how this shit works.

All of these things can exist independent from each other.

Emotional Reactivity and Empathy

I have this feeling that emotional reactivity and empathy might be a bit negatively correlated. When you’re all up in your feels about the feels you feel about how they might feel… that’s not about them. That’s not being sensitive to how the other person is feeling. I’m amazed how people who call themselves empaths are so often wrong about the feelings of others. They often seem to project what’s inside of them.

Empathy is about allowing the other person to be everything they are, and being curious about it. Tapping into it. Trying to place yourself in their shoes. When they don’t like you, that’s part of their experience and that’s that. They have their whole landscape of consciousness, such an amazing spectrum of experience, and their feels about you is so marginal…

I’ve found people low on emotional reactivity to be generally more empathic, because they focus on the other. They don’t assume to know how the other feels because they have all these feels. Instead, they are interested to know. There is room for me, because they are not full of their emotions. They hold space. Empty space, inviting space, not just triggered responding space that is all over itself.

I like my people intense. I like avalanches. I love their entire universes and hope to invite them in, so I can experience it with them. I care about my own emotional experience and I think it’s important to delve into it, embrace it, and feel free to share it with others. I think that raw vulnerability is a part of real intimacy, connecting with others. We are more than arena’s for others, we are more than our ability to place ourselves in another’s shoes. We have our own shoes, our own perspective, our own experience to fill.

But I like having the occasional empath around. They are nicer, kinder people.

ESSM School: Hi from Budapest!

The ESSM School of Sexual Medicine is a multidisciplinary, comprehensive and crazy intensive 10-day course on human sexuality. I am having SUCH a good time. I’ve had some training in sexology before, of course, but it’s always been kind of fragmented. This school is everything I’ve been dreaming of, it really is. The schedule is punishing though. We have breakfast in the hotel, class starts at 8.30, lunch is served in the hotel at 13.00, then more class until 19.00. We get half an hour to freshen up, meet in the lobby at 19.30 and have dinner at a different restaurant each night around 20.30. After that we might go dancing, have a drink somewhere (Buddha Bar is great!), last night we went on a boat cruise. Then back at the hotel around 23.00, and do it all over again the next day.

Topics include everything including endocrinology, gynaecology, urology and psychology. Because of my own background I would have liked some more sociology, sex education and gender studies, but I have to say, I’m having a great time watching surgeries on penile fractures and all sorts of other stuff I usually would’t see. This school is on sexual medicine after all.

marijkevonkessmThe participants come from all over the world, every continent and completely different cultures. Most are medical doctors but I’m not the only psychologist. The group is great, it’s just so amazing to be around this many academic sex geeks! These are all people like me who think talking about sex during dinner is a great idea, who are scientists and evidence-based and ah it’s just lovely.

And exhausting. Sunday will be our last day and I’m flying back home on Monday morning. I think I’ll spend my Monday afternoon imitating a vegetable while watching Netflix. Anyway, if you’re a psychologist or medical doctor and you want to become a sexologist, I can totally recommend this school.

Please support Dutch sex workers

Sex workers in Groningen and PROUD, the Dutch union for sex workers, are concerned about the illegal registration of personal data of sex workers. This is happening through the mandatory intake and distribution of a registration card in the city of Groningen. Both the intake procedure as the registration of personal data are serious violations of human rights and a breach of privacy laws.  Please support Dutch sex workers and sign the petition.

groningenThe mandatory intake is illegal, stigmatizing and humiliating. It has serious consequences, including profiling by the police and discrimination by the authorities. In addition, the mandatory intake can also be potentially dangerous for foreign sex workers and/or sex workers that still live abroad, as sex work is not legal everywhere.

Police in the Netherlands have informed families of sex workers about their profession, they enter homes without a proper warrant, they take money from sex workers without their consent and ask prostitutes invasive and humiliating questions. Sex workers need to be protected from human rights violations and state and police violence.

Sex workers will leave Groningen, have done this already or will choose to work illegally. Illegal working sex workers have no acces to the legal system, thereby being at greater risk of experiencing violence.

The sex workers of Groningen and PROUD want the city of Groningen to reconsider its policy and stop the mandatory intake and illegal registration. Please support Dutch sex workers by signing their petition.

Gender complexity: Male/Female/Other

Gender isn’t as simple as male and female. Even purely biologically speaking there is more natural variation than that. Sex seems to be more of a spectrum rather than two neat categories. And it’s a social construct. Nature hasn’t given us clear distinctions, obvious characteristics of what should be considered male or female. Instead, we’re presented with a great variety in reproductive and sexual anatomy. It’s humans who try to fit this complexity into two groups.

Intersex conditions are then defined as natural variations that deviate from cultural norms concerning male and female bodies, including variations in chromosomes, hormones and sexual organs. Take these ladies on the right, for example. Would it make any sense to say they are men, just because they have XY chromosomes? Of course not. It shows how amazingly diverse human bodies really are, and how silly it is to insist sex is a simple thing. We should recognise it for the sociale construct it really is.

And that’s just biologically speaking. Gender is so much more than that. Part of it is gender identity, whether you feel like a man or a woman or maybe neither or both. Gender identity is a personal thing, it’s how you feel about yourself, how you perceive yourself. Your gender identity can match the cultural norms associated with body characteristics, so for example I feel like a woman and my body looks like what we call female. If I felt I was really a man, I would be considered transgender and perhaps I’d feel the desire to change my body to match my gender identity.

And then there’s gender expression. The way we’re supposed to look, how we are supposed to present ourselves to the world, is deeply connected to ideas about femininity and masculinity. People want to know, when they look at me, ‘what I am‘. If I’m a man or a woman. If I felt like a woman and my body matched what we call female but I yanovskacomwould get a short haircut, stop removing facial hair and would wear clothes we associate with men, people get… confused. Annoyed, Angry, even. Because I’d be messing up their nice boxed up ideas of how you’re supposed to look, what a woman is supposed to be.

I love it.

And I love this project by Lana Yanovska showing the variety of gender expression.

The Worth of Whores

Don’t measure a woman’s worth by her clothes, it says. With bad words describing the kind of judgement you might get when you wear clothes that are too revealing. Worse than “slut”, worse than “asking for it” is the word “whore” all the way on the bottom. It’s quite correct, I fear. In our minds, sluts and cockteasers are bad enough. But whores are most certainly the lowest of the low. I was watching an episode of American Horror Story the other day. One of the characters cried to her lover “I’m not a whore, I matter! I matter!”.

Dutch media usually depict sex workers as victims, innocent girls forced into a life of prostitution. Never because they thought it was their best option, but always coerced by pimps or poverty. But tv shows and movies usually seem to take it a step further. Sex workers become completely dehumanised. A dead hooker is just a thing, not really a person. Their death isn’t even worth reporting. Their murderer gets away with it, or is chased by police after he makes the mistake of killing a real woman. Suddenly, all those dead hookers become an interesting trail. This happens so often and so completely that it becomes in a sense almost invisible. Unless you are a sex worker or love a sex worker, and then it starts to hurt.

When you work in an industry as stigmatised as the sex trade, jokes which dehumanise workers and normalise violence have a considerable impact. As long as the viewing public continues to get a kick out of tropes such as “dead hookers in the boot of a car”, the violence some of us encounter at work will be seen as inevitable, and, worse still, unchangeable.

If Romances Movies Were Feminist

Abusive relationships are romanticised and even fetishised in popular movies about love. If a man really loves you he’ll disrupt your life, cross clearly stated boundaries, stalk you, coerce you, and argue that he’s helpless in doing so because his overwhelming love for you just forces him to do all these things. He just loves you so much, so that must mean it is true love. Parents let their teenage children watch Twilight as if there’s nothing wrong with modelling such destructive and unhealthy relationships in movies. We get a warning if there’s any boobage to be seen, warningbut I wish there more awareness of the dangers of romanticising unhealthy ‘love’. How awesome would it be if Twilight started like this:

WARNING: The following show features abusive behaviour performed either by professionals or under the supervision of professionals, Accordingly MTV and the producers must insist that no one attempt to recreate of re-enact any activity performed on this show.

Remember the “tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?” lyric in Grease? It’s a classic, obviously. But even in more modern movies, some really creepy, rapey, stalky stuff comes out. Jealousy is framed as romance, possessiveness is framed as love, stalking is framed as caring. And yeah, movies about healthy everyday relationships would be boring, but the scary part is that all this abuse is never used as ‘bad stuff’. If a man hits a woman it’s “oh my heavens look what horrible things she’s going through” but if he watches her sleep… for months.. without her knowing.. that’s supposed to not freak us out?

The Weekly Personal (aug 2016)

gay prideI’d never been to the Amsterdam Gay Pride before. I went to Pink Sunday in Tilburg once, that was great fun. But I’d only seen parts of the Canal Parade on tv a couple of times, and I was excited to experience it in real life. And yeah, it was great. A couple of friends of mine live in Amsterdam and a whole group of us met up to watch the boats, drink wine and eat crap. I think it’s nice how gay pride has become the cool thing to do, even though it’s sad actual LGBTQ groups and people hardly have any space in the whole Parade anymore.

Many visitors were wearing the Gay Pride Hema t-shirts. Hema is a family-friendly shop that sells stuff like towels and pens and kettles. For Gay Pride they sold shirts with the Dutch treat ‘tompoes‘ which translates into Tom Puss (puss, right?) and sausages (haaa!), and I thought they were hilarious. We’re not there yet, obviously, gay rights are still something to be fought. But we’ve come a long way! (why were all the models White though?)

hema

 

 

 

Ireland: Protect your whores from the nuns!

The Magdalene Laundries might have closed, but sex workers are not safe from Irish Sisters at all. The nuns simply regrouped, renamed themselves and are still harming prostitutes. A little background information:

FMagdalen-asylumrom 1765 all the way to 1996, ‘fallen women‘ in Ireland were taken from their homes and incarcerated in so-called ‘Magdalene Laundries‘.  A fallen woman could be an unmarried pregnant woman, a girl who was considered too promiscuous or a prostitute who needed to be ‘saved’. In these prostitute-prisons they were horribly abused and had to perform forced labour.

“the institutions had little impact on prostitution over the period”, and yet they were continuing to multiply, expand and, most importantly, profit from the free labor. Since they were not paid, Raftery asserted, “it seems clear that these girls were used as a ready source of free labour for these laundry businesses”. Wikipedia

The 1993 discovery of a mass grave in Dublin opened up the conversation about the exploitation of prostitutes and led to a government inquiry. A formal state apology was issued in 2013, and a €60 million compensation scheme was set up. The four religious institutes that ran the Irish asylums have not as yet contributed to compensate the survivors of abuse. This is despite demands from the Irish government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture.

You think the exposure of all their crimes would have at least stopped the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, and Sisters of Charity from abusing sex workers, right? They refuse to acknowledge what they did or compensate their victims, but maybe they would be out of the whore-hurting business, right? Surely they’re not making money, right now, doing the exact same thing, right?

Yeah, right.

The Sisters continue their abuse

ruhamaRuhama, the largest anti-sex work organisation in Ireland, was founded as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters“both of which had a long history of involvement with marginalised women, including those involved in prostitution“. They’re even funded by the Department of Health Department of Justice. They received over 14 million between 2006 and 2011.

We know that Ruhama is led in part by Magdalene Laundry nuns” said Kate McGrew, member of the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland. Sex workers in Ireland have been fighting for human rights, labour rights and protection from (state) violence. But they have found a persistent and aggressive enemy in the Catholic sisters. Ruhama has not just been bothering prostitutes again, they also actively campaign against sex workers’ rights. They opposed Amnesty International’s proposal in favour of human rights for sex workers and are fighting against everything sex workers demand.

But still, the Irish government is allowing Ruhama , those same people who abused and exploited prostitutes, to advise them on laws that directly impact sex workers, while excluding sex workers themselves. Not only is the Irish government funding the same people that abused sex workers for all those years, they even consult them as ‘experts’ on prostitution.

How many more skeletons need to be found in closets or cesspools before the public wakes up to the evil of prohibitionism? How many more lies until the self-appointed saviors lose their credibility for good? And how many more women have to die? – Maggie McNeill

itssomethingRuhama does not offer any actual help to sex workers who need help. Rescue organisations and anti-prostitution NGO’s rarely do, they mostly make money by ‘raising awareness’, abusing prostitutes, receiving money from governments and providing ‘education’ to health professionals and policy makers. But it seems they haven’t killed any babies. yet. So, you know, that’s something…

You can read more about human rights for Irish sex workers here. You can read more about abuses in the anti-trafficking rescue industry here.