Life — The Desire for Sympathy

One thing I’ve been especially cognizant of recently is what happens when I’m talking to a friend and one of us isn’t in a good mood. For most people I talk to, whoever isn’t in a bad mood will be extremely positive or optimistic about the friend’s situation, only to have the roles reversed the next day.

The strange thing about this is that I don’t know what causes it or why it seems to be so much more difficult to feel positively about oneself when compared to thinking of other people.

Take, for example, a situation or circumstance you may be going through right now. (This would work a lot better if I knew you personally, but hear me out). If I had told you about this situation as if it was my own problem, you would undoubtedly provide me with options as to how I might deal with it. But, as soon as it is you that’s having the problem, we seem to lose all ability to rationally be able to solve it ourselves.

I think one of the biggest things at play here is our brain’s psychological need for comfort and sympathy. As you may or may not know, I’m a very confident person. I rarely study for anything and, as far as school is concerned, I have never once been afraid of failing a class. But this doesn’t stop me from telling my friends about my worry about passing a test or getting a good grade on a project. That isn’t to say I will lie about my concern, simply that I will exaggerate and play it up my fear as a means to make conversation.

I’ve also lied about insecurities I have to people. It’s odd, because I hate small talk, and I basically never flat out “lie”, so I have no idea why I would do that, it simply happens. Perhaps that, along with talking to friends and family about problems, big or small, is a way to increase our own sense of self worth. Making another person think about and work through a situation one may be in proves they care about you, so like Pavlov’s dog its an unconscious behavior we learn simply because it provides results we like.

This is all, in the end, conjecture. I have no basis for these conclusions, and it could just be behavior that I personally have learned in order to mimic those around me, exaggerating my own fears and concerns to make myself feel more similar to those around me. Normally I would have some scientific theory or study to refer to here, especially when talking about psychology, but this is one phenomenon I just don’t understand. That being said, I wouldn’t doubt that this exact thought process has a name and even a definitive explanation for it somewhere. But phenomena like this are a little difficult to discern one way or another without directly asking an expert, since there is no way to “explain” something to Google.

I suppose a conclusion one can draw here is that it seems we are optimistic towards others’ problems while pessimistic about our own. Perhaps its a psychological desire for sympathy.

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