Misplaced empathy in an abusive relationship often leads to a spiritual dryness and a deep sense of wandering loss.
Empathy is a positive virtue, a trait to be cherished and nourished. Isn’t it?
Of course. Empathy is the backbone of agapé, which is true charity—love of other as other, not love of another for what they can give to a relationship or how they make you feel about yourself. Agapé is pure, unconditional love, regardless whether the relationship is romantic, a friendship, or even directed toward a mere acquaintance or stranger.
Agapé is loving the other as a child of God, made in His image and likeness (Gen 1:26).
Empathy is the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another's person's feelings. It’s that entering into, feeling another's pain, that’s the hallmark of empathy; not merely understanding it, or even being compassionate towards it, but entering into it.
But it doesn’t stop there. Empathy is even more than just ‘imaginatively’ entering into another's pain. It's actually feeling that pain within oneself, with the desire to help alleviate it and ease the suffering and burden of another.
Empathy is naturally feeling the ability to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), as well as listening deeply (without defenses or blame) and truly internalizing someone’s experience so that it becomes a mutually shared experience. When a person shares their suffering with a friend, the suffering is cut in half and the one with the pain feels less agony, and more hope. In the case of sharing joy, the joy is multiplied by two.
Yet, believe it or not, empathy can go too far.
I'm Jenny duBay, a domestic abuse survivor and now advocate. My degree is in Christian theology with a concentration on spiritual direction, and my vocational emphasis is on helping those who have suffered from domestic abuse to heal and reclaim their true selves.