The writer of the great blog ocdtalk recently wrote a post called “The Nicest People.” The post was thoughtful and raised an interesting question: do people with obsessive-compulsive disorder tend to be nice people?
She described her son who has OCD as “thoughtful, gentle, sensitive, and kind,” and said others she knew with the disorder were the same way.
She suggested that perhaps nice people who were predisposed to have OCD were more likely to develop the disorder than others with the predisposition, because they would give more credence to horrifying thoughts and fixate on them.
This post gave me pause. After thinking about it, I commented. Part of my comment was the following:
All people suffer, all people have burdens. But I think when people suffer so much inside, and many people can’t even tell that anything is “wrong,” they end up sensitive to and empathic with others because they know there’s more to people than what’s on the surface.
I’ve had plenty of experience with people telling me that they never knew I was depressed or had OCD. The pain inside does not always show on the outside.
I don’t think I’ve suffered more than most people. There are many people who have had much more difficult, traumatic and tragic lives than I have.
I do think that having suffered great despair and loneliness, I feel a kinship with others who are suffering. It hurts to know that other people are feeling as bad or worse than I have.
I try to empathize with others and give them the benefit of the doubt.
But, oh, how I can fail at that.
Yesterday, after I read the ocdtalk post, I was out with my husband in a customer service venue. We had a curious response from a person whom we thought worked for the establishment. She gave us what we considered to be poor customer service.
We didn’t say anything to her or anyone else. We just looked at each other and I leaned towards him and mouthed to him something like, “That was rude.”
A few minutes later, we found out she wasn’t an employee, just a customer who was helping out. She was married to an acquaintance of my husband.. After he arrived, she and I chatted a bit while the men talked.
It became obvious that she had some physical problems, similar to a person who has had a stroke.
It was also obvious that she had a hard time getting around, but she was still trying to help out the employees.
I felt horrible.
Out in the parking lot, I told my husband how badly I felt, and he, too, had a different perspective.
I thought about how I had just written about my empathy for others, and my understanding that what’s on the inside doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s on the inside. And then I thoughtlessly judged another person.
And what if she had just been rude? Did that give me the right to judge her? No, I don’t believe it did. People act certain ways for their own reasons. I don’t know what those reasons are. It wasn’t like she was aggressive towards us or mean in a way that called for being defensive. So what if she seemed rude?
This is another lesson for me that actions are more important than feelings. I may feel empathic, but acting with empathy is more important.
I can’t be perfect. I won’t always act with empathy. But I hope this lesson helps make me stronger in that respect.
Thanks to the writer of ocdtalk for starting the discussion and making me think more deeply about my own actions.
Do you think your capacity for empathy has increased because of your battle with OCD, other anxiety disorders or depression, or because of suffering caused by other things? Does it affect how you treat people?