Last blog we explored empathy and sympathy and how they relate to compassion and self compassion too. We looked at the importance of acknowledging and accepting feelings instead of suppressing them or overreacting with blame and criticism of others or ourselves.
When we bring empathy and understanding to our feelings we can connect with our wise selves for the understanding, support and love that we need. One tool I find particularly useful is the ABC practice. (We will explore this practice again next blog). I am thankful to my friend Shadi for helping me to deepen my understanding of empathy and self compassion.
The underlying themes which inform my ‘Compassion Retreat’ include .......
Compassion for and connection to ourselves first. It's like applying the oxygen mask to yourself first in order to be of benefit to others!
A lack of self compassion is a barrier to showing compassion for others
Letting go of judgement
Whatever judgement I hold against myself will seep into my relationships with others. Watching out for that critical task master voice.
Look after yourself and others
Take this time to show empathy to yourself and others
Be easy of yourself – turn up the kind encouraging voice and turn down the task master.
Take time for balanced self care – get enough sleep, relaxation, nutrition and exercise.
Connect with those who support you (including your kind, wise encouraging self). Connecting with others and our wise selves is important.
Connection allows us to overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness. During these difficult times it is important to find ways to connect with others.
Some things that you may want to try include - give someone a phone call, join a community group or class (online for now), get some support or help if you need it, volunteer, help someone in need, send a letter or card, zoom, do random acts of kindness and smile. I graffitied our front footpath with 'Feel Loved and Appreciated' and Lama Marut's 'Be Radical, Be Content, when the concrete was wet some time ago. I have seen 3 people photograph it recently!
Give yourself a break from those who you feel are not able to support you for now. (including that critical task master voice)
Kindness and Gratitude
Kindness to all, including you!
Gratitude for all those who make our wonderful lives possible, including yourself.
So, let’s explore empathy some more. Let’s look at how to give empathic responses (both to ourselves and others) to promote connection, and also what responses to avoid to prevent disconnection.
Brene Brown says 'empathy is communication that incredibly healing message of 'you're not alone'. So empathy promotes connection, which as we have said is particularly important for our well being.
Brene Brown tells us that 'empathy is about connection; sympathy is about separation'. And that 'empathy fuels connection and sympathy drives disconnection'.
She explains that empathy involves .........
1. Perspective taking or seeing the other persons point of view.
2. Staying out of judgment (Of yourself too)
3. Recognising emotions within another (and yourself). (Remember, no suppressing!)
Empathy is a choice that we make to put ourselves in another person's shoes (including our own) without judgment in order to connect with them or ourselves.
Listening is important. When we feel heard, cared about and understood we also feel accepted, loved and as if we belong. We can give that to ourselves as well as to others too!
When we are able to give ourselves the empathy, compassion and love that is needed we are able to connect with the other person.
Brene Brown tells us empathy is a vulnerable choice because it involves connecting with our own feelings first and this can be painful. In order to connect with you I have to connect with myself that knows that feeling.
Author, Sue Monk Kid says ‘empathy is the most mysterious transaction that the human can have and is accessible to us all’. She says ‘we have to give ourselves to the opportunity to identify, to plunge ourselves into the story where we see the world through the bottom up or through another’s eyes or heart.’
So how do I practice empathy? I have had fun these past weeks being aware of acknowledging my feelings and those of others and responding with empathy.
Brene Brown tells us when we have a situation where others are expressing their pain to avoid what she calls ‘silver lining it’. We do this because we try to make things better, but rarely does this help or promote connection, empathy or understanding. We ‘silver line’ when we say things like ‘at least’ or ‘it could be worse’.
The example Brene Brown uses is - in response to ‘I think my marriage is falling apart’ someone says ‘At least you have a marriage’!
I have been aware of when I use these responses both to others and myself. I was speaking with a friend’s son who had just returned back to Melbourne from a camping trip in NSW. He was expressing disappointment in the more severe restrictions here. I said ‘at least you can play tennis’. This response did not acknowledge his feelings of disappointment and showed a lack of understanding, empathy and connection. A more helpful response may have been …….
I realize I do this with my mother too. She has been having hearing problems and I have been doing lots of ‘at leasts’ and ‘It could be worse’s’. So instead I am being aware to listen, acknowledge and provide an empathic response.
Remember to avoid these ‘silver lining’ responses with yourself too. Take the time to acknowledge the feeling and to listen. Be aware not to suppress the feeling with these shut-down remarks and instead ABC (Acknowledge, Breathe, and Connect to the wise self to give yourself what is needed). More about this next blog.
With love and my very best well wishes to us all