The Power of Empathy.

Lately a theme for me in my life and in my practice has been empathy.  As I have said before, I think this world has lost it’s ability to be empathetic, to be kind.  So often I have clients come in who are working on their relationships, usually their marriages.  The language that is used tends to revolve more around   punishment, accountability, paying the consequences, disappointment etc.  The words of love, compassion, vulnerability, empathy and trust don’t even make the radar screen and when I suggest them it is as if I have 10 heads. Now I realize many of these people have been in marriages that have been full of disappointment, mistrust, anger and hurt.  The first step is beginning to repair that damage.  But as the old saying goes ‘if you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got’.  Meaning the pattern has to change, the cycle of pain, hurt, disappointment, punishment, apathy has to change, someone has to step up.  That is the challenge, because that step up requires a risk of pain and hurt.  So many couples choose to stay in apathy mode, a mode of self protection and justification.
In true confession I struggle with this theme in my own life, I don’t want to be taken advantage of, I don’t want to over give or be seen as a fool.  But I do want to be someone who loves those in my life with an open heart.  Someone who accepts them for who they are and recognizes their limitations and struggles and tries to meet them half way.  It is a fine line, a muddled and icky line. For most of my teens and twenties I aired on the side of giving too much and was often taken advantage of.  My friends and I will retell the stories of the men and the stuff we put up with because we were too young and didn’t know better.  And in reaction to that pain I bounced back the other way–I steeled myself against giving too much and set out looking for the perfect person who wouldn’t hurt me, who wouldn’t take advantage, who would always put me first and be there.  I was saddened to discover,  that person doesn’t exist.
In reality, relationships are messy.  We are dealing with another human being here who has baggage, fears, insecurities, emotional issues etc.  I know I am not perfect by any means why would I expect my nearest and dearest to get it right every time.  The one thing I know for sure is how I see the world, my perception, vision, rules of living are totally different then how others see the world.  If I could give people (including myself) one gift it would be a reminder that not everyone sees the world like you do.  We sometimes need to step out of our view, take off our glasses and walk over to see how our partner is looking at the world.  We need to have some curiosity about how our partners, and friends interact and view the world.  Rather then shaming them, or punishing them for not seeing the world the way we do we need to embrace them for the fact they can expand our vision and show us a different world.  I am constantly amazed how differently my nearest and dearest views the world from me.  I admit my first response can be frustration or anger when he does something or responds in a way I wouldn’t.  It is when I can pause and have some curiosity about this perspective that the anger dissipates and the compassion steps in.  That is how we build the bond of intimacy and caring.
Today notice when you go into self protect mode, when you step up in judgment or anger.  Then gradually begin to have some curiosity and empathy for the other person’s perspective.