Dear Carolyn: Yesterday’s response has me thinking — what if I want to be the kind of person who is a sympathetic shoulder to cry on? Is that still not presenting myself honestly?

As I think about it, there are plenty of situations where a friend calls me about a problem they're having and, while I'm happy to talk it out or to listen, I don't feel their pain. I feel bad that they feel bad, but sometimes my mind wanders or I wish I were doing something else or I selfishly wish Bad Thing weren't happening to them in part because it affects me or plans we had.

But it’s important to me to be there for them. It’s not that being asked to be sympathetic bothers me, just that I feel like I’m not deeply feeling their pain, if that makes sense. I’m perfectly happy giving friends and my boyfriend all the sympathy they need, but I guess I don’t know if it’s abnormal or bad to not feel like I’m giving my all to that, or to wish I could be browsing Twitter instead, and whether it’s something I should spend time exploring further.

— Missing Empathy again

Missing Empathy again: This warrants deeper analysis, but I’m not sure you need empathy to be a good provider of sympathy. In fact, there’s a case to be made that not going through the emotions yourself enhances your ability to listen patiently and provide a shoulder. Some of the best caregivers are the ones who maintain enough detachment to keep their heads, and keep listening through what would be, for others, an exhausting level of duress. Imagine if neonatal intensive care unit staff cried over every baby who came in fighting for life. Yet they clearly value these tiny, fragile people and their commitment to providing care is not in question.

Where I would be careful is, again, in overpromising. If you envision eventually giving in to your preference to browse Twitter, then maybe presenting yourself as a 24-7 sympathy warehouse isn’t fair to you or your friends. It’s okay to offer yourself as the person who will drop everything to help someone with the big stuff, but maybe not with a headache … unless it’s severe enough to scare the person. Being open with your boyfriend or others about your struggle with this issue isn’t just about solving the problem; it can also be a way of letting them know how you’re wired.

Also, a gap between how we feel and how we act is a sneaky cause of emotional ailments like anxiety and depression. Social media doesn't help, because it can immerse us in examples of how we wish we were, when these people may just be wired differently or selling an idealized form of themselves.

These “am I abnormal” questions are good candidates for therapy, if only a session or two.

Re: Empathy: Carolyn is on to something here. When a friend’s mom died, he tried to talk to me about it, and I wound up crying so hard he had to comfort me, and I had never even met his mom. Too empathetic for my own good. I think you’re holding yourself to a too-high standard.

— Too Empathetic