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The Power of Empathy

EMPATHY is one of the most powerful social skills you can have.

When you offer empathy to a person – watch as they move from a less conscious perspective, mired in their defences, fighting or avoiding things .. and then  drop into their truth, find what they really feel and know.  Watch further as they find a simple wisdom that will make things better for themselves and those around them.  Watch as the energy that was caught up in stress, now becomes focused empowerment and creative ideas.

I really believe that if we all got highly skilled at empathy, we could solve a lot of the world’s problems – more cohesively and creatively.  It’s a skill you can use to help your partner really show up and offer more of themselves, to help your children tap into their own answers and to bring forward new possibilities with colleagues.

In a global social-political-economic landscape that is seeing greater polarization and fear-based responding impacting the way we all live or struggle to live, it’s a skill that we can’t afford not to hone.  All of us.  It’s a contagious, pay-it-forward kind of thing.  The more it’s offered, the more others are freed up to do the same.

And it’s not mysterious.  It’s not just something that counselors do.

Karla McClaren is a social science researcher and educator who has dedicated her life to the study of empathy and emotions.  She defines it this way:

“Empathy is a social and emotional skill that helps us feel and understand the emotions, circumstances, intentions, thoughts, and needs of others, such that we can offer sensitive, perceptive, and appropriate communication and support.”

We all want to feel understood, to know that someone else out there gets it and gets us. Without this, we can feel terribly alone or misunderstood.

As human beings, if something concerns us, our first healthy ‘go-to’ response is the tribe.  We run it by someone else, get a perspective, ask for help.  Empathy is a critical skill here.  If it doesn’t bring what’s needed, we’ll tend to then go into a flight, fight or freeze survival response.

But if we get it, the mirroring, the soothing simply from the presence of another in it with us in it, ideally someone who sees, hears and can communicate what they sense is happening with you until you are feeling understood, accepted, cared about, well, all kinds of things are possible:

  • Your brain will settle into its “exploring” mode, as exposed to anxiety and safety seeking.
  • You will be more able to inhabit the present moment, rather than fixate on worried or fearful potential outcomes
  • Your own wisdom voice will speak up and make options and priorities known to you
  • You will be able to hear it
  • You will feel more confident to take action on your own wise sense
  • You may well come up with something fabulous that benefits others involved as well as yourself

What does empathy make possible for you?  What makes it more challenging to offer?
Share your thoughts or questions here on Facebook.

What continues in the crying?

There’s different types of crying.  Some are a relief and a let-go and bring a sense of healing.  Others are more desperate and hopeless.  There is a wound that comes up in one area of my life that sees me in this place at times.  Sometimes I get fired up and passionate, sometimes I am accepting and soulful, sometimes open and optimistic, but the tricky one is the collapse response.  The slow caving in.  I watched this as it came on this morning after my morning walk, not wanting to be tearful and at the same time watching the unfolding.

I still had my observer self intact, which is great.  Sometimes the observer gets pretty small and the pain gets big.  In the midst of this today a question arose – what continues in the crying?  The collapse may sometimes feel like an annihilation, but what continues in the crying?

I noticed for me today, it was my breath and a sense of spaciousness as I watched the process of tearful collapse begin.  In that there was easing for me, mellowing, gently inhabiting more of the current moment.

If you are someone who ever finds themselves lost or drowning in a difficult emotion, notice your present moment experience through your five senses and ask yourself … what continues here, through this emotion?  Keep some of your attention with this and some with the emotion.  Watch what happens.

Counselling approaches that help.