Why do i think Things have feelings?
November 22, 2010 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone else's mind compulsively given objects feelings? If so, how do you deal with it, or how did you stop it from being a problem day-to-day? Weird psychological tic questions inside.

I have a problem - my brain is completely sure that all objects have feelings.

The funny side of this is me giving an apologetic smile to the sandwich I put back down when I see another I'd prefer. Stupid, right?

The not-so-funny (to me) side is when i happen to read a story in the paper about a town which has an xmas tree which everyone is saying is "shabby and a poor excuse for a tree". I cried when I read that article, because I felt so sorry for the tree, and hoped it hadn't heard anyone say it was shabby.

Before anyone makes the crazy face and says therapy, I did actually bring this up with a therapist once. he did his best to talk me out of it, but my brain just doesn't want to stop thinking it.

So... anyone else have this weird problem? Speak up and make me not feel quite such an oddity, and please share any fixes!
posted by greenish to Grab Bag (63 answers total) 115 users marked this as a favorite

Response by poster: That's an interesting article, but no... I have good relationships with my family, friends and partner. So I don't think that would be the cause. But thanks for linking it!
posted by greenish at 2:16 PM on November 22, 2010

Best answer: I have those same feelings too, sometimes. I actually read an article once that I can't find, where a woman bought dolls over QVC since she felt sorry for them since nobody was bidding on them, and another woman worried about whether she should recycle her plastic tubs with the lids on or off, since she worried it would be too humid for them.

The solution for me is this: remembering that there are real beings out there with real feelings that actually are suffering, and I should use that mental energy to worry about/help them instead.

But I don't think you should call yourself stupid over this. I actually think it is a wonderful thing, in fact. There are thousands upon thousands of people in this world who lack even basic human compassion or any conscience whatsoever. I think it's wonderful that you have an excess of compassion.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:17 PM on November 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

Or not even an "excess," but more than average. I think it would be a better world if everyone were the same way. (Probably a much less efficient world, but still).
posted by Ashley801 at 2:18 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does this interfere with daily life? Is there a reason you don't want to embrace this part of yourself, non-standard as it may be? I suspect the environment would be in better shape if more people shared your problem.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:19 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, I do this, too. I blame being raised in a culture of media where there are Brave Little Toasters and even insects fall in love or miss their mommies. Velveteen rabbits and Cowboy dolls get sad when you don't play with them. Really, I think this is just the sensitive, emotional mind responding to the way it has been trained (read: bombarded) by these stories. On the plus side, I think it means we are in touch with our most loving feelings and are not hardened to the world. (Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn't do this if I lived on a farm/ranch and had to raise animals for meat.)
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:21 PM on November 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

I used to do this heavily as a kid (used to make beds for my various writing implements from tissues, lest they have to be subjected to the cold of the desk. I still do to a lesser extent, and I join you in being sad for that tree which is alas, probably does not experience emotion. It has not bothered me unduly in adult life.
posted by stranger danger at 2:22 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

). That is all.
posted by stranger danger at 2:24 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It happens to other people, too.

I have no comment on the why of your situation--I don't know--but wanted to offer this page as evidence that you are not alone in this tic, for whatever reason it may occur. I silently apologize to roadkill, so there you have it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:28 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: ME TOO.

I just consider myself overflowing with empathy. I have so much that I have to apply it to whatever I can find. Even the sandwich that I decided against. "Don't worry, someone else will choose you."

I kind of wish I weren't like that, because there's no reason I need to feel sad about the jar of peanut butter in the grocery store. But in the big scheme of things, it's not overwhelming. Most of the time I can roll my eyes at myself and move along. For something like the shabby tree, I remind myself that the tree's emotions are WAY above this petty name-calling. The tree shakes its head at the silly humans that have their ridiculous ideas of beauty=worth.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:31 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've got that. I figured it was part of my extant odd brain wiring; it got better after I got meds for other aspects of my issues, but it's still sort of there.

(Boy, my parents were not happy to find all the inner cores from the last... six or so months... of household TP consumption stashed in my room when I was 8. I didn't want them to have to go to the dump and suffer.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:33 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I understand where you're coming from and I think a solution is to break the object down into its component parts - it may help reset your brain into recognising it as an object. For example - this is a washbag made of cotton. The cotton is made up of threads woven together. Each thread is made of plant fibre.

Something about thinking about objects like this helps me snap out of the kind of thinking you describe, especially if I go right down to a level of detail that visualises the plant fibres themselves, for example.

But I don't really see it as a problem - I'd only worry if it was interfering with your life or causing troubling thoughts.
posted by cryptozoology at 2:43 PM on November 22, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone. I cried reading these answers cause it's all so familiar, even the article Ashley801 mentioned - I've bought things before because they were marked "unwanted gift" and I can't bear them to think they're unwanted.

I already feel a shred more sane because I know it's not just my strange little problem, and it doesn't even feel like so much of a problem anymore.

I guess the real issue is that with times like the xmas tree, I find it so emotionally overwhelming that I feel I ought to be saving such emotion for more "worthy" occasions, not to mention saving myself the exhausting sadness of it.

So for now I'll leave the question unresolved for the moment, just in case anyone else has any ideas or solutions.
posted by greenish at 2:45 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I totally do this too. I'd say it's gotten better as I've gotten older -- as a kid, I would really mourn that brownie bite I didn't pick -- but I still feel the tug. I think it's probably one of the main impulses behind holding on to stuff, and even hoarding. Feeling not just sentimental, but sentimental to the point of anthropomorphizing. I definitely have to put my ruthless cap on when I'm getting rid of stuff. Fortunately, on a day to day basis, I find I usually forget about the sandwich I didn't choose not long after the first pity pang.

It also helps to stick the forsaken sandwich (or stuffed animal, or book, or whatever) in prime, pick-me!! pick me!! position to increase selection odds by whomever comes next.
posted by changeling at 2:46 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am this way, too. For instance, whenever I don't eat all of the food on my plate for dinner, my partner (in order to tease me) knows that he can pick up little pieces and make them act all sad that I don't want them. This always makes me feel really bad and I have to pat the pieces and assure them that they are perfectly wonderful pieces of food, I am just full, and they are going to go and have an interesting life in the rubbish bin where they will meet lots of new friends.


That's just one example. I just put it down to weird brain wiring. I'm also mildly synesthetic -- my numbers and letters have personalities, and I see time etc in spatial loops and patterns -- so I figured it was an extension of that. No idea if there is any truth to that, though.

The way I deal with feeling bad for objects is to rewrite their stories in my head. So, as in the above example, rather than thinking about the poor food going to waste, I look at it as a great adventure for the food to go into the rubbish bin. In your example with the tree, for instance, you could try seeing it as a brave tree that is shabby because it's been through a lot, and is proud to be the Christmas tree for the town even though it is shabby. Rewriting the story works for me because when you come right down to it, there is no truth of the matter -- maybe food would actually be happier in the rubbish than in my stomach, I don't know -- so you can imagine it how you want. And I find that my brain just wants to imagine something, but I have great leeway to change the story to myself. It leads to a rich and fun inner life; I like it.
posted by forza at 2:54 PM on November 22, 2010 [31 favorites]

I still feel this, too. Toy Story in particular exacerbated the over-empathy when I was younger, and I used to have nightmares about leaving a particular stuffed animal off my bed or not choosing a specific item, like they'd be offended or something. For me it was projection -- long forgotten projection from when I felt left out at school, in groups of friends. I was determined not to let that feeling invade anything else's being -- regardless of whether or not I knew it to be truly sentient.
posted by patronuscharms at 2:56 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can relate to it as an OCD sort of thing. The examples you use seems to suggest that because you have the power to perceive the unhappiness of these inanimate objects, you bear some kind of responsibility for it. I feel that the best plan of attack is to recognize the impulse and be aware that the more you give in to it, the more troubling it can get.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:03 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Eh, it happens to me too sometimes.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:07 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's a nearly universal phenomenon -- this IKEA commercial plays with the theme -- so you're not crazy, but just perhaps a little bit more sensitive than others.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:09 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I didn't mean for my answer above to sound like I'm one of those guys in the white coats with the clip boards. I should admit that all the tools in my woodshop have foreign accents.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:11 PM on November 22, 2010 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I do this too sometimes. From as far back as I can remember I have felt that trees have feelings. Even now a logging truck will go by and I will think of all of the "bodies" on it. I also always pick out the shabbiest looking Christmas trees because I know no one else will want them.
posted by MsKim at 3:16 PM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

I used to have this much worse, especially when I was a kid. My mom still laughs at me, 30 years later, for tearing up as I watched my grandfather cut into a sandwich.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:16 PM on November 22, 2010

You are definitely not alone! I do this too.

I apologize to broken pens when I throw them away. I have to get every bean out of the can, so they can all have an equal chance to be eaten and fulfil their beanly duties. I say "I see you" in my head to roadkill, so it won't feel alone and unnoticed, squashed there on the road. (I'm so glad to see that MonkeyToes upthread also talks to roadkill ...)

I come from a family that didn't keep many trinkets and hardly took any photos when I was growing up, so I think I'm overcompensating for the perceived lack of love and attention (to me and to things I treasured) while I was growing up. I was also convinced that all my toys came to life at night, and every animal could secretly talk if you knew the right magic words to say -- standard kid stuff, right? I think it grew from there.

My therapist says it shows I have compassion and kindness, and it's expressing itself in all directions, even to inanimate objects. (I am also very nice to my loved ones, friends, and even random strangers.) It isn't too much of a problem for me, unless I'm already feeling blue.
posted by vickyverky at 3:21 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Being highly empathetic and sensitive is a way of being, and can look a lot of different ways. I have a way that I am highly empathetic/sensitive too (in a little bit different way, although I felt very similarly to what you describe, as a child), and the way I change my environment around to accommodate me and my way of being is that I focus my energy on acknowledging what I am actually capable of doing (treating others kindly as much as consciously possible, doing a good job at my job as much as possible, reaching out to people who look sad or lonely when I think it is appropriate), versus what I wish I could do (stop wars singlehandedly, end homelessness and hunger singlehandedly, make all dogs and cats have happy homes with people who love them, etc.). This helps me a lot, and reminds me that I don't always have the power to fix everything (or make the tree or sandwich feel better).

I think it's important that, if it's bothering you a lot to feel like this, you might consider talking to a therapist. Not because I think it's weird that you feel like this, but that if it's bothering you in your daily life, there is more likely than not something that can help you feel more at ease. Yes, I read the part where you said don't recommend therapy because you already saw one, but there are plenty of therapists who probably wouldn't know how to talk to you about this whatsoever, so I'd recommend trying for one with a specialization in anxiety, which it seems to me is the most approximate way of describing this in the language that is used for therapy specializations. Again, if this way of being is bothering you to the point that you're seeking help for it via AskMe, I'd say that therapy is not the worst idea ever. (I am a therapist. I think I could talk about this with someone in a pretty constructive and non-shaming/overly pathologizing way, so I think there are likely lots of others who could too.)
posted by so_gracefully at 3:21 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it makes you feel any more normal, there's entire categories of fanfic written about these things, and it's called 'Anthropomorfic.' (I was kind of in awe of the extent of it when I signed up for a Yuletide writing exchange this year and saw people requesting it left and right. Had no idea how wide-spread it was. Also, damn that IKEA commercial.)
posted by cobaltnine at 3:25 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was really bad about this as a kid. Like, I would get mad if my mom threw away a paper cup I'd attached some significance to, because it would be lonely in the trash. I have been diagnosed with mild OCD, though, so maybe it's related. I'm not as much like this anymore, as it has morphed into guilt at throwing stuff away because it will be taking up space in a landfill/bad for the environment, etc.
You should read this comic/blog post.
posted by elpea at 3:26 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Of course they have feelings.

Even new out of the box they have the feelings of the designers, makers, sellers and deliverers attached to them.

Every time I get out my old Cuisinart pressure cooker that I bought at a now closed boutique thrift store I think in passing something like 'you were rejected by that couple who didn't know what to do with this outsize strange-topped pot they got for a wedding present, but I love you. I wish them a happy marriage and that I could let them know how much pleasure you've given me and my partner-- but I also wish you'd stop trying to burn me the way you do. Oh well, you can't help it, can you?'

I believe people who don't have these emotions are missing some of their important human equipment.
posted by jamjam at 3:26 PM on November 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

You should write children's books.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:08 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I do this, and The Empress does it much more. It is totally normal to hope that the plastic grocery bag licked upwards on odd thermals is having fun, and to feel badly for the one that gets snagged on a tree. I showed her this thread and she has proclaimed all of you Her People.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:12 PM on November 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you were *that* weird, nobody over the age of reason would have teddy bears or name their cars. I think it's a byproduct of having so much wrinkly cerebral cortex, as is pareidolia, the tendency to interpret the as patterned even where it's random.

In the case of the sad Christmas tree (damn you Charlie Brown Christmas special) I would probably comfort myself with the certainty that the tree can't read the newspaper story and has no ears, so it has no idea what people are saying about it. This gets me around the whole business of trying to avoid anthropomorphizing the tree.

I cope with this tendency in myself by reminding myself that there are plenty of real places to put my compassion, for perspective, and that compassion without action is generally a self-indulgence.
posted by gingerest at 4:27 PM on November 22, 2010

I have this to a certain extent as well. For instance, the thought of putting an object in someone's casket-such as a teddy bear or doll or other sentimental object-horrifies me in the absolute extreme.

In general what I have done to get over some of this is to really pay attention to the object, firmly tell myself that it is inanimate and that it has no feelings, until the truth takes hold.

But yep, I have to fight it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:28 PM on November 22, 2010

I used to be especially bad at this about toys when I was little. Whenever I'd have trouble about choosing between two new toys in the store and finally make a (painstaking) decision, my mom would tease me about how sad the toy I'd rejected was and I'd feel horribly guilty about the damage I must have inflicted on that toy's self esteem. I'm pretty sure I said a few prayers to God that the toys would find happy homes to love them.

Seconding that I definitely still do this about trees.
posted by hoperaiseshell at 4:38 PM on November 22, 2010

Best answer: I was reading this thread to my husband just now and I told him this story.

Once, while Christmas tree shopping with my father, I came upon the most pitiful Christmas tree imaginable. It was shoved in a corner, the other, healthier trees blocking it. We stood there and stared at that tree, and my father said, "No one is going to buy that tree. It's going to sit here until after Christmas until they throw it out. Think how sad that tree is going to be." I started to cry, and we stared at the tree for a while until guilt overcame us and we bought it and took it home.

At this point, my husband said, "How old were you when this happened? 8? 9?"

I was 21.

We replanted the tree and it survived for a couple more years. It was a very sad day when it died.

All this was to say that I do this ALL THE TIME.
posted by crankylex at 4:43 PM on November 22, 2010 [14 favorites]

Ohhhhhhhh -- I am not the only weirdo who does this! I like to combine this uh, habit, with my OCD beliefs about the dishwasher, and I won't run it with single utensils in their own little cubbies because I don't want them to get lonely, or mixed in with other types that they might argue with.

I have to press "post comment" right away before the full horror of this hits me. But no, not just you!
posted by theredpen at 5:28 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

And it was very hard to watch Toy Story movies, especially the third one. I cried through a huge part of it. I was really worried about what my husband was thinking, but he's still here.
posted by theredpen at 5:31 PM on November 22, 2010

When I was little I would clap extra hard for the small fireworks, or even the duds, so that they would feel as appreciated as the large, flashy explosions.

"I say "I see you" in my head to roadkill, so it won't feel alone and unnoticed, squashed there on the road."
Me too! I never thought about why, but you're right--somehow letting it go unacknowledged just seems so callous.
posted by martianna at 5:32 PM on November 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

I still distinctly remember asking for and getting Mr. Bubble bubble bath soap as a child. However, it sucked. It made almost no bubbles at all, and those made died out very quickly. I felt profound sadness for the drawing of Mr. Bubble and I cried during the whole bath time. I remember being surprised that I was crying for a cartoon. When my mother came to check on me, I pretended I had soap in my eyes so I wouldn't have to explain why I was crying.

I suppose this isn't exactly what you're talking about, what with Mr. Bubble (kind of) representing a humanoid. On another note, I also thought/believed that the whole numbers (1 - 9) had gender identities and considered how each of them (say 5) must feel having neighbors of particular genders (say the masculine 4 and the feminine 6).

Now I'm feeling a little strange about admitting this.

[In case you're wondering: 2, 4, 5 and 8 are male; 6, 7 and 9 are female; 1 and 3 are non-gender.]
posted by klausman at 6:06 PM on November 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

My guess from the examples you provided is that you are acutely sensitive to feelings of sadness or neglect, and hyper-aware of behavior that could inspire those emotions; being so averse to those feelings, any act that could create those emotions in a person causes you some level of stress, even if the act is toward an object.

Do you find you project a full spectrum of emotions onto objects? You mention feeling compassion toward objects that you perceive being neglected or abused in some way, but do you have a strong reaction to objects that are getting positive attention, or are being treated well? Do you experience jealously toward objects?
posted by Menthol at 6:17 PM on November 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: When I was a child, I read a Dr. Seuss short story about a man being chased by a pair of pants. Man was appropriately terrified, and when the pants finally caught up, the man was just out of his mind with fear and I'm pretty sure he yelled at the pants. Then the pants started to cry. I blame this story for the way I feel today, 30+ years later.

Absolutely true story...I bought a plant one weekend to bring to work. Until Monday came along, I put it in the windowsill next to another potted plant. Come Monday morning, I couldn't bear myself to bring the one plant to work because in my stupid empathetic brain, the plants became friends and I didn't want to separate the two.

I could not go see Toy Story 3. I read the plot on Wikipedia and I just don't think I could do it.

Freaking pants.
posted by ladygypsy at 6:19 PM on November 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

While we're blaming things, I blame The Velveteen Rabbit. Almost did me in!
posted by theredpen at 6:25 PM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

[In case you're wondering: 2, 4, 5 and 8 are male; 6, 7 and 9 are female; 1 and 3 are non-gender.]

The more I look at that, the more sense it makes. Argh - why?
posted by Knowyournuts at 6:36 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Klausman, you may find this interesting.

Also, the letter i was always a girl for me!
posted by Tarumba at 6:47 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tarumba, klausman: yeah, that's what I was talking about with the mild synesthesia. My numbers have genders and personalities as well, though they are different from yours[*]. (And I have number form synesthesia too).

Anyway, it's interesting that there are other people that do both of these things.

[*] For the curious: numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 are girls; 2, 6, 8 are boys; 4 is non-gendered. Some but not all are vaguely coloured (e.g., 9 is purplish, 2 is kind of a gross yellow, 4 is a nice blue). All have personalities. 7 and 9 are my favourites: they are vivacious and outgoing, although 9 has a bit more of a regal, serious side and 7 is just very fun-loving. 2 is a bit of a bully, and 6 is a schlub who is always in a bad mood. 4 is just super nice and pleasant to almost everybody. etc. When possible, I avoid numbers that I don't like (e.g., if I have to sit at a table in a restaurant, I would much rather sit at 17 than 26. ugh.).
posted by forza at 7:34 PM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have experienced this my whole life, although it has lessened with age. I've even found that there are cases where I can have stronger feelings for a cast-off stuffed animal than a homeless person. I sometimes wonder if it isn't a way for my empathy to be applied without any potential for being taken advantage of or squandered. In other words, empathizing with a lonely shoe I see on the sidewalk is more of an open/shut case than the lonely neighbor whose caustic attitude drove all her loved ones away.
posted by palacewalls at 7:47 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I feel bad for the paper that gets jammed in the copier, the Cheerio that gets dropped on the floor, etc., because IT WILL NEVER GET USED FOR ITS ONE TRUE PURPOSE. IT WAS SO READY TO DO ITS JOB, TO BE THE BEST DAMN PIECE OF PAPER OR THE BEST DAMN TASTY TREAT, AND NOW IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

Tarumba, klausman, forza: 6 X 5 is blue and orange. 7 x 7 is purple, and 8 X 8 is pink.
posted by Lucinda at 8:01 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a further example of my ability to cry over anything, I just read the xkcd comic that Brian Puccio linked to above and tears are welling in my eyes. I feel especially bad for things that are discarded, because the broken lamp must be sad that no one wants it anymore. Thanks, Ikea! I am also traumatized by the series of Swiffer commercials where the old mops and brooms are discarded in favor of the newer, sexier Swiffer.
posted by crankylex at 8:10 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well crap. Me too. In fact, reading this thread has made me give all of you a hug until you're not sad anymore. I attach feelings to certain objects too, although I've noticed that in many cases, things that other people talk about as though they were living things (e.g. their car, their computer) are the things that I think of as just inanimate "stuff" put together in useful ways, while simpler objects such as hand tools and kitchen utensils have personalities/feelings in my world. And yes, I always apologize to roadkill; generally in a soft but audible voice. It seems like the least I can do. Thank goodness, my friends still like me anyway. On a related note, I will also sometimes fixate on a simple man-made object in the environment (e.g. a doorknob) and start thinking about where it might have come from, who came up with the design for it, who built it, purchased it, installed it, fixed it, etc. If it's an older object I start thinking about how at least some of those people are probably dead now, and getting bummed out, and have to make myself think of something else. Ditto for those photos of abandoned places found all over the Internet. Sometimes the sight of a rusty bicycle or wheel chair, or a waterlogged book left on a table strikes me as so poignant I almost cry. Sometimes I even get those feelings for the buildings themselves. I'm glad I'm not alone in my... um... specialness. :-/
posted by Death by Ugabooga at 8:11 PM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh - and then there's seeing someone/something hurt or feeling bad in a random picture (generally on the web, these days) and thinking I should find out where they are and try to help them. And then I look at the information about the picture and realize that who/whatever it is probably died before I was born, and is far beyond my help. Or sometimes worse, there _is_ no information about when or where a picture was taken, so it feels like they're just having a lousy time in limbo forever. *sigh*
posted by Death by Ugabooga at 8:23 PM on November 22, 2010

Lucy Knisley (cartoonist/artist) touches on this issue in one of her comics: These Inflatable Hearts

also my husband nearly drove me to tears when we threw away our broken vacuum cleaner and he started going "Guys? Where are you going? Guys? It sure is cold in this dumpster..." I said "THAT'S NOT FUNNY" and he looked at me like I had lost my marbles.
posted by castlebravo at 8:23 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Once you spend more time with things than people,
I think it's bound to happen,
and dog knows there are more things than people
in our lives these days.

Instructions sets, old tools, big rocks, trees and plants of all descriptions;
Bolts and nuts (this nut went with this bolt).

Songs have been written about it:

I pity inanimate objects
Because they can't move
From specks of dust to paperweights
Or a pound note sealed in resin
Plastic Santas in perpetual
underwater snowstorms
Sculptures that appear to be moving
But aren't
I feel sorry for them all

What are they thinking
When they arrive at a place
Do they sigh with disappointment
And when they leave
Do they have regrets?
Is a sofa as happy in one corner
As it is in another
And how does the room feel about it?

I pity inanimate objects
I pity inanimate objects
I pity inanimate objects
I pity them all

Physics isn't fair
Is a tree as a rocking horse
An ambition fulfilled
And is the sawdust jealous?
I worry about these things

Peppercorns don't move
Until they contaminate the ice-cream
Three weeks later
Is the gold in Fort Knox happy gold?
I care about these things

Some things are better left alone
Grains of sand prefer their own company
But magnets are two faced
No choice for sugar
But what choice could there be
But to drown in coffee
or to drown in tea
The frustrations of being inanimate

Maybe its better that way
The fewer the moving parts
The less there is to go wrong
I wonder about these things

I pity inanimate objects
I pity inanimate objects
I pity inanimate objects
I pity them all

(Godley and Creme, L)
posted by the Real Dan at 8:24 PM on November 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

Adding my voice to the chorus of "I do this all the time, but I don't really know how to help you stop if you want." When I was a kid, I found it almost impossible to leave stuffed animal aisles and mentally apologized to each that I touched and then did not pick (and by "when I was a kid," I guess I mean last week). The sight of a day-old cake on sale for half-off with other old objects is more than minorly heartbreaking to me (my partner is wonderfully understanding and has repeatedly guided me away from said aisles); likewise the story of the Christmas tree upthread, because the tree obviously just wanted to shine as brightly as possible and bring the most joy and was then rejected by its people. Oh, man. It's good to see that I'm not alone, although it was only in the past few years that I realized that not everyone is this way.

I try to look at it as being indicative of laudable compassion. I have a strong and driving belief in justice, support, and a compassionate society, and I can only think that it extends to objects as well. I do not at all know how to stop, and in fact now will probably start thinking "I see you" at roadkill. I think as long as your instinctive compassion towards random objects is matched or exceeded by your compassion for living beings, you're probably doing okay.
posted by verbyournouns at 9:18 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've had this my whole life.
I've never hid this and my friends and family find it amusing/endearing.

I used to save the lint sheet from the dryers because I felt bad for them.
Before going to sleep when I was younger, I would kiss all my stuffed animals and then kiss the air for all the abandoned stuffed animals until I fell asleep.
I also had a problem... and still do (not as bad) with throwing things away because I felt bad for them.

As for the link mentioning social issues and loneliness - I come from a close family but most of us are socially retarded and have very few friends. I consider myself an introvert, though. So I'm not really lonely. When I was younger, I guess maybe I was.

I also like to put eyes on everything.. like office supplies and objects.

Sometimes it can be a pain... like when it results in me not being able to throw things away.
I've just learned over the years to donate everything and I pretend that the stuff will never be thrown away.

As for the lint... well... I guess I grew out of that pretty quick!
posted by KogeLiz at 11:15 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone who answered. I marked the ones which were either the most useful or relevant to me, but they're all brilliant.

I now not only feel like my "problem" isn't so weird, but i also have psyche-kin! Double win!

PS. Emperor SnooKloze, I salute your wife.
posted by greenish at 3:11 AM on November 23, 2010

I do this too, and have always done it. Have you tried / do you like photography? For me, taking pictures has been enriched by this weird thought process. When I photograph objects, I try to capture this 'emotion', or at the least, preserve them for me to look at in the future. It's also a good substitute for buying/keeping an object because it's so emotionally charged.

I've always attributed this habit to an overactive imagination...and also, as an only child, the ability to relate more to objects than to some people (because I spent most of my time alone, playing with things).
posted by beyond_pink at 5:58 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

castlebravo, you beat me to the Lucy Knisley cartoon--I was planning to link to it as I read the thread. :)

Add me to this list, of course. I'm also one who was badly influenced by The Velveteen Rabbit--that and a song from The Electric Company about a rag doll ("Raggedy Al") who went through all sorts of miserable escapades with his child (ironically, a result of being the favorite toy!).

Of course, I've always been a bit of a mess about stuffed animals in particular; of late, I've been worrying about the little stuffed hedgehog who lives on the dashboard of my car, because it's getting cold out and I think I shouldn't leave him there all night. I don't particularly want to have to explain to my husband why I'd bring him in and out every day, so I haven't so far--but then again, he might understand. He's got his own little OCD crosses to bear.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:17 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you heard of the writer Lyall Watson?
One of his books, 'The Nature of Things' popped into my head when I read your question.

A really fascinating book, all about the 'secret' life of inanimate objects.

Here is a link to the book
posted by noella at 8:00 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to pop back in and say that I'm really glad it's not just me. ;)

As for stuffed animals ... I have BAGS and BOXES of my stuffed animals in the basement (I'm now 38 years old) because I can't bear the thought of throwing them away. In the garbage? These were loved beings (and still are)! I've thought of just donating them, but I'm pretty sure that most of the stuff I donate is thrown in the trash (except for items of actual value, but I mean, stuffed animals have no VALUE to anybody besides people like us).
posted by iguanapolitico at 9:35 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband is very much this way, and says he has been ever since he was a small child. It's mostly just charming -- he'll want to buy something that he thinks nobody else will buy, because he feels bad for the thing.
posted by statolith at 10:22 AM on November 23, 2010

You might be interested in Shinto. I like the idea of the gods of small things.
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:05 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

This article in New Scientist may be of interest:
In our own image: Why we treat things like people
posted by DarkForest at 5:53 AM on November 30, 2010

Ashley801: "I have those same feelings too, sometimes. I actually read an article once that I can't find, where a woman bought dolls over QVC since she felt sorry for them since nobody was bidding on them, and another woman worried about whether she should recycle her plastic tubs with the lids on or off, since she worried it would be too humid for them."

The story of the lids is in the book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, I believe.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:03 AM on January 19, 2011

Just wanted to chime in that I've also had this "excess of empathy" for years and years. For me, it helps to realize that even if the bicycle that I left in the rain were capable of feeling sad, I have absolutely no way to know what things might make it sad. Bicycles are non-sentient, but even if they were they would still be non-human. Maybe bicycles prefer the cool feel of rain?

It also helps that even if I'm not convinced that they have no feelings, I can usually convince myself that they have no (for example) nervous system. I remind myself that in order for a bicycle to be sad about lying on the ground in the rain, it would have to have some mechanism to sense that it was raining, that it was on the ground. Somehow that helps me deal with it.

As with everyone else, I also thought that was my own weird craziness alone. (:
posted by Squid Voltaire at 11:20 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heh. How about feeling bad for posts without favourites?

Not the people behind the posts, you understand. The posts themselves.
posted by Arandia at 4:00 PM on January 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

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