I, Empath: Why I Cannot Enjoy Gore

I, Empath: Why I Cannot Enjoy Gore

NOTE: I have temporarily shelved my middle grade horror WIP. While that project festers rests, I am preparing a non-fiction book proposal about my short-lived but life-changing experience as a PhD student. So, to jump-start the academic part of my memory, I am writing this post as a proper academic paper in APA formatting, more or less.

In the remainder of this Introduction section, I will over-explain what happens in the remainder of this post.

DOUBLE NOTE: To any college or graduate students who may be reading this: Stop using the word “Introduction” for your introduction heading. Proper APA formatting dictates using the title of your paper as the heading for the introduction section and if you are one of my own college students, stop creeping on me. Have some boundaries, gang. And use spellcheck.

The Background section will detail my personal understanding of this month’s theme: J-Horror.

The Methodology section will review my original intention for this post on J-horror, why it changed, and how I am only recently OK with this newfound understanding of my socio-emotional boundaries.

The Results section will be a hot mess of rambling. But that works here because, unlike in grad school, if you state it deliberately in an introduction, you can write just about anything regardless of how little it connects to anything else. Because at least ‘my readers were forewarned’.

The Discussion section will contain the conclusion. Kind of. Lucky for you, Dear Reader, my tolerance for academic discourse is limited so the current sentence you are reading is just about the one-third point of this post.


Here is a list of everything I know about J-Horror: The J stands for Japanese. End of list.


My original intention for this post was to live-tweet, then Storify my experience of watching the best J-Horror movie I could find as suggested by a few of my incredible colleagues.

But I couldn’t do it. And I recently found out why.

Since I connected with this incredible community of horror writers, I have realized my inability to stomach gore. But it was only with the recent help of a grief counselor that I have begun to understand why.

This counselor has been helping me learn to cope with the death of my father and my tendency to get overwhelmed when I “absorb” other people’s emotions without meaning to. I’ve always done it. I can describe it as severe empathy. Or empathy to a fault.

Simply put, I take on other people’s emotions without meaning to. Or wanting to. I do this the same way most people can smell cake or hear thunder. 

Let me be clear: Yes, I have an imagination. Yes, I care about people. Of course I an empathetic person. On a few rare occasions in 2007 I was even a sympathetic person. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

What I am talking about is empathy’s overlord uncle. The closest phrase I’ve found that describes this very real part of me is ‘Being an Empath’.

I used to think I just needed “suck it up” when I got a piece of bad news or heard about a tragedy and could not function because I was instantaneously too busy trying to imagine what it must feel like for the victim(s) or the family member(s) of those affected.

Not cool. Not good. Not healthy.

For a while I thought it was my fantastically vivid imagination or that I was just good at reading people the way Sherlock reads people. But with help, I’ve been putting some pieces together and I realize it is more than empathy. And that it is exhausting. And unhealthy.

But also: that I am slowly getting better.


What? Am I scared or something?

You bet your ass I am scared. This is a scary world in which I sometimes feel I have no choice but to put myself in the victim’s or the family of the victim’s shoes.


Fluck if I know.

This is why I haven’t watched or listened to news since September 2001 and won’t until I am capable of handling news without running myself into the ground.

My best guess is that my guilty Catholic conscience is wired to help unburden those who are suffering. Which is a nice thought and all, but not when it hurts me or prevents me from being able to function in society.

Simply put: bad news and graphic violence affect me in a very real and very painful way and I. Do. Not. Like. Pain.

And now a word about pain: 

I am a Sicilian and grew up Catholic so I have a high tolerance for pain. But this does not mean I can enjoy it.

When I read Stephen King’s book On Writing, it took me two weeks to shake the phantom throat pain from where he described his own experience with strep throat.

I have never given birth and don’t know if I will, but I say with confidence that strep throat is the single greatest physical pain I have ever known. I can’t not-swallow. It’s a biological impulse. And after swallowing rusty fire knives for eight to fifteen days, there is no euphoric little throat goblin to love and get yelled at by outside of a Hollister for the rest of your life. So. Strep is worse than labor.


What Does This Have to Do With J-Horror?

As stated earlier, I wanted to watch and comment on a J-Horror movie for this post, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t find a “gore-less” J-Horror film. So, I won’t. Because I can’t. It’s self-preservation. Gore does not do what I need stories to do for me. And that is OK because knowing this means I am taking care of my mental and emotional health from here on out.


What does this look like, Intro to Qualitative Analysis?

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