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Oversensitive to Suffering?
I find that when it comes to animals, I seem to "take on their pain" when I see them suffering, view photographs or videos of their abuse, or read accounts about animal cruelty. I get extremely upset, so in the midst of a recent particularly distressing situation, I asked myself, " Why is this affecting me so intensely?" I don't think this is healthy for me, but I don't know how to control my emotional and physical reactions. Do you have any suggestions?
Deeply relating to the pain of abused animals is a phenomenon many other vegans and animal activists share with you. It stems from our capacity to recognize the anguish other animals experience, fully acknowledge their consciousness and our similarities, empathize with our heart (not just our intellect), and realize our own helplessness to alleviate and put a stop to the widespread suffering.
It is essential for vegans and animal activists to educate themselves about animal cruelty and all the corresponding issues for numerous reasons. It is necessary to get our facts straight so we can speak from a position of knowledge and truth rather than speculation. This includes making ourselves aware of the depth and breadth of animal abuse in order to understand its pervasiveness and prevalent cultural acceptance. Witnessing the suffering of animals through direct exposure (such as behind the scenes at circuses, livestock auctions, or slaughterhouses) and through videos, or simply reading about animal-related issues, makes their dreadful circumstances much more real to us. It also motivates us to care and act.
However, we must determine if there is any advantage to repeatedly exposing ourselves to such agonizing information once we have become saturated and emotionally receptive to it. For many, there is no inherent value in continually overwhelming our psyche with horrific mental images. If we are exceptionally sensitive, portrayals of or in-person exposure to animal suffering can immobilize and discourage us to the point of inaction or chronic depression. Visualizations of horror can make us feel helpless as well as hopeless. Other individuals may become callous and hardhearted or develop a persona of anger and mistrust. Both are counterproductive and potentially damaging. Accordingly, each of us must determine our emotional limits and gauge our exposure to such heartrending and distressing materials and situations.
Reading about or viewing images of animal abuse causes me to feel such intense sadness that it becomes emotionally overpowering. Therefore, I do not allow myself to become absorbed in disturbing articles or view films, documentaries, or other kinds of programming that portray animal neglect, maltreatment, and suffering. I am not disregarding, devaluing, or denying its existence. Rather, I am conceding its reality while recognizing and deferring to my inability to endure it effectively.
Although I am fully aware that animal abuse widely exists throughout the world, I know I must respect and yield to my limitations. I realize that I cannot cope or function well when my heart is perpetually heavy with a weight I cannot possibly remove. Therefore, my suggestion is to minimize or eliminate your exposure to these types of upsetting materials. You already are deeply sensitized, so there is no need to bombard your emotions again and again with information that serves no purpose other than to torment you. Turn off the television, take out the video, walk out of the room, cover your eyes, close the magazine or book, or do whatever is necessary to allow you to find the inner peace and presence you need to continue to do positive work on behalf of animals and remain the whole, loving person that you are.
The key to preserving our sanity amidst horrors we cannot single-handedly control is to physically and psychologically distance ourselves so we can detach from issues we know are too painful for us to bear. Identifying and accepting our limitations is not a weakness -- it is a strength that regrettably too few people are courageous enough to investigate and embrace.
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