Sometime back, I had a conversation with my friend. I asked him how his trip to France was? He had gone there to present his work. He said, “It was fun. You should also go. Why don’t you apply for a conference?”. I said, “I don’t have enough data, love”. And then I saw his condoling eyes and knew he felt sorry for me. This was the first time I saw someone showing that emotion, and I immediately knew how he felt. And quite contrary to his expressions, my heart just ached. The way I felt was grim. I had always wondered why sometimes people with physical disabilities don’t want other people to help them or feel sorry for them. But after experiencing it myself, I now know how they must feel. This is empathy, and what my friend felt for me was sympathy.
Scientists think these emotions could result from firing of mirror neurons in your frontal lobe. So, let’s say you saw someone getting poked by a needle. At that instant, you also felt some pain, cause you relate to that person just like how you relate to your reflection in the mirror. And while feeling so, your mirror neurons got all hyped up.
Emotions like such are essential to sustain ourselves as a society; these emotions force us to act altruistically and think about a greater good. This means having these emotions and showing them is evolutionarily advantageous for us. But then, why do we feel bad when someone else is sympathetic towards us? Why did I feel the way I did?
After that conversation, I started feeling that my situation was unfortunate, so much so that other people started noticing it. It gave me an unsolicited fear about my life trajectory going south. It also made me feel that we are unequal. That he has achieved something that I couldn’t; it was disheartening. I started feeling self-pity. After some introspection, I realized I started feeling all this because maybe somewhere in my mind, I was seeking external validation for my life.
Once I reached this conclusion, it was easy to process my emotions. My mood wasn’t off because my friend showed sympathy. I felt that way because I was not at peace. So, I tried reasoning with myself. The only takeaway was that I must be content with my journey or do something about it to be at peace internally. I can’t keep expecting other people to make me feel that always. And since we all have a tailor-made list of priorities, each carrying a different weight, we all live a very different life. We are presented with different opportunities, and therefore, we have different experiences, likes and dislikes. There is no way to measure us as equals or unequal, as no unit exists to do so.
But one problem that was remaining was how to not seek validation.
To which my brain replied, ‘If I ascertain some value to the quality of my life, people will have no option but to believe me as they have no scale to measure it anyway’.
If I see my world with rose-tinted glass, others will too.