Empathy + Books

A few months ago I took a test at work to determine my top five strengths. This was for a strength based training we were doing that encourages people to play up your strengths rather than try to work on your weaknesses. My top five strengths in order are:

  1. Empathy
  2. Achiever
  3. Strategic
  4. Relator
  5. Consistency

I wasn’t totally surprised by these answers because they’re skills I use every day while working as an office administrator at a busy preschool. But the one that really got me thinking was Empathy and how that not only affects my work and personal life, but also my reading life.

Webster’s Dictionary gives this definition of empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully , communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

I don’t think I was really aware of how much empathy I feel ALL. THE. TIME. Mostly towards my husband and coworkers since I’m around them so often, but I even feel it with my dog. He has a lot of feelings and I feel them all.

So this got me thinking about how reading and empathy can be both a positive and negative thing depending on the book. Over the weekend I was frantically trying to finish a book that’s due at the library, and this book not only had a very heavy subject (murder mystery on top of family issues), but it was also written as a graphic novel which brings even more emotions through the illustrations. I was imagining myself in this scenario and honestly it became a bit too much to empathize with these characters. I put the book down and decided to just return it to the library unfinished.

I’m not saying I won’t go back to this book eventually, but right now it was just too much. I think with the holidays approaching and my school term winding down I’m feeling overwhelmed in my own personal life and I need my reading to feel a bit separate. Right now I need reading to be an escape, but I still need to be careful when going down that path.

Last year I read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and I don’t think I’ve ever empathized with a book so much. It’s a roller coaster of emotions and I found myself thinking about the book long after I had put it down. It changed my perspective on a lot of things and has honestly changed my life. The fact that I could feel so much from a book that it altered my thinking of the world is pretty amazing, but I wonder if this is because I have too much empathy.

I also think sometimes I use the escape of reading to empathize with others so I don’t have to focus on my own life. Sometimes this can be a good thing, but once it starts getting in the way of me dealing with my own issues, it can be a problem. I do this with friends and family too, trying to take on their feelings so mine get pushed to the back. This can be helpful for a little while but it’s not sustainable.

This weekend I experienced a crash of holding on to too much empathy for things I care about and I had to take a huge step back to focus on what I needed in that moment. Folding laundry and listening to The Giver on audio was the cure I needed right then, and I’m thankful I was able to identify it. I’ve realized that too much empathy can often lead to anxiety or depression, which can spiral easily if not dealt with. So while I think of reading as a hobby, sometimes it can feel like emotional labor depending on the book. That’s why I usually try to keep lighthearted and fun books close by when I’m needing to just laugh and take a break from holding on to so many emotions.

What books have you read that have felt like emotional labor? And do you think they were worth the read?

The First Half of Riotgrams October 2017

I'm a sucker for a photo challenge on Instagram. My brain is often full of school and work stuff, so having someone give me prompts for photos is extremely helpful. Book Riot has been killing it with their Riotgrams challenges every few months, and the prompts for October might be my favorite yet. Here are a few of my favorites from the first half of the month. And remember, it's not too late for you to join in! Just search #riotgrams on Instagram to get all the prompts and find some bookstagram inspiration.

Let me know if you have a favorite Instagram challenge you like to participate in!

5 Reasons to Bail on a Book

I rarely bail on books because I'm a crazy completionist and honestly I have no other excuse. This weekend I was reading It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover and I honestly couldn't take it anymore. 47% in and I returned the ebook to the library and marked it as DNF (did not finish) on Goodreads and Litsy. So if you're looking for an excuse to not finish that book you're reading, here's a few options:

  1. It makes you uncomfortable, and not in a good way. If the book is racist, sexist, ableist, or triggering in some way that makes you uncomfortable then put it down and walk way. You don't owe a book anything that will disrupt your mental health.
  2. It's boooooring. You gave it 50 pages. Then 100. And you still don't see what everyone is raving about. If the plot doesn't catch you then throw it aside.
  3. Not the right time. I'm a big believer that certain books should be read at certain times. If you're not feeling the book right now feel free to jump ship and come back to it later.
  4. You have other things to read. If you're like me I read 5-6 books at a time. Sometimes it just becomes too much. Books aren't going anywhere, so don't feel bad putting it back on the shelf.
  5. It just sucks. Not all books are created equally, and some books just flat out suck. Return it to the library, sell it at a used bookstore, just get rid of it.

Now go forth and bail without guilt!

We Were Feminists Once

The first book I read this year was We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler. It's a fascinating examination of how brands have figured out how to market using the feminist agenda, and how that has hurt and helped the movement.

I also appreciated how Zeisler talks very frankly about the importance of intersectional feminism. The Women's March on Washington has definitely started a lot of conversations about the privilege surrounding white feminism and why it's so important for our feminism to be intersectional. We need to feminism to focus on racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc. We need to fight for everyone right now. So if you're confused about intersectionality, check out We Were Feminists Once. I think you'll enjoy it and hopefully expand your knowledge of this movement.

So in the spirit of feminism and consumerism, I've put together this cute bookish outfit. Everything except the shoes and jeans are from a small business, so think about supporting them.

I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in bringing you real information about health and holistic wellness.

Trying to say goodbye to a good series.

It's been months since I finished Fairest, one of the companion novels in The Lunar Chronicles series, which means I've had plenty of time to finish this series. But I've delayed, delayed, and delayed some more. Not because I got bored or tired of reading about these characters. Actually, it's the opposite. I DON'T WANT THE SERIES TO END!

It's always sad to say goodbye to old characters that you know so well; like saying goodbye to friends at the end of a great vacation. And even though I know I can go back and re-read these books over and over again, it's never the same as the first time. The laughs, the twists and turns, and the gut wrenching moments are always a little dimmer the second time around.

I'm sure I'm not alone here wishing that some of my favorite series could go on and on forever. But all good things must eventually come to an end, whether we like it or not. So I'm going to spend my time reading Winter this month, all 800+ pages! Ideally I'd like to be done by the beginning of next month because Marissa Meyer's next novel Heartless releases on November 8th.

So tell me I'm not alone! Is there a series you don't want to see end?