What is Sympathy?

To have sympathy is to understand the plight of someone or something. It is to say that “Even though I have not experienced that myself, I am with you.” Then there is empathy. Sympathy is different from empathy whereby empathy is when 2 people are experiencing the same feeling from a place of knowing, a place of experience. “I know exactly how you feel.” Empathy is a stepping stone and a tool that we use to lead us and usher us into a state of compassion. Compassion is the ultimate experience, emotional expression, and a force of nature that we can tap into. It is a state of being where we have the wisdom of the knowing and are able to find solutions.

Our Sympathetic Nervous System is part of the Autonomic Nervous system that is designed for fight or flight. The system that is the alarm and the fire at the same time.

Why doesn’t our sympathetic nervous system have more sympathy? Doesn’t it know what we are going through when this happens? Does it care? Does it understand?

Unfortunately, not. That is not its job. It is a system designed to react, not necessarily to ponder, or contemplate the meaning of its actions. It is a system ultimately designed for the preservation of the species. The physiological changes associated with pulling the adrenal gland alarm cause a cascade of effects manifesting as increased heart rate, pupil dilation, increased respiratory rate, dilated bronchioles, and increased blood flow to major muscle groups. All this to make sure that we have the chance for survival, to run, hide, or fight. There is no “Aww poor baby, are you having a hard day?”

Over 70% of the population is on physiological sympathetic overdrive, our batteries are running too long, our systems are being taxed to the maximum capacity and are overheating.

Where is the tipping point? The Tilt mechanism? The ultimate systems breakdown? And better yet, where is the sympathy? Where does it come from if not our sympathetic nervous system?

A play on words, but a valid question nonetheless. Can we ourselves show sympathy for our own sympathetic nervous system? It is only just doing its job, and it is doing it well, and probably too much. Perhaps an overachiever.

If someone who is trained in emotional resilience, overheats and crashes due to a deep-rooted unresolved emotional conflict, what does that say for the rest of us? (And yes, I am talking about myself.)

It says we are human and reminds us that although we are strong there are times when we are challenged beyond our capacities. It also reminds us that we have the ability to bounce back, to understand under what circumstances we are at our most vulnerable, and to allow ourselves permission to go to those places of deep sadness. It is in those moments where we have the opportunity and the obligation to question our belief systems and to understand that what creates our suffering is just an opportunity to let go of that which we believe and to reframe, reevaluate or release that.

That is the Sympathy.

When we are presented with physiological responses to an emotional state or conflict, we may not at first understand the true underlying meaning of it. Reactions tend to be very superficial, and explosive like anger, anxiety, judgment, frustration, rage. They are usually coverups for the ‘real deal’ feelings like sadness, unworthiness, shame, or a sense of entitlement. Phrases like ‘You owe me’ or ‘I deserve’ play into those emotions. Again, belief systems that we need to release, or reframe. If the belief is causes suffering, whether it be mental, emotional or physical, it is a clear signal to alter that belief and change our perception.

That is our personal sympathy to ourselves in response to our sympathetic nervous system and because it is ‘up close and personal’ it becomes empathy. It is within that deeper understanding of how we feel that ultimately, we find compassion for ourselves and we heal.

It is said that symptoms and dis-ease is the body’s solution to an emotional conflict. Perhaps our sympathetic nervous system is sympathetic, in its own encrypted way.