Empathy

I reviewed Nonviolent Communication and didn’t touch on empathy.

What is empathy?

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing….Empathy with others occurs only when we have successfully shed all preconceived ideas and judgments about them….Instead of offering empathy, we tend to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, on the other hand, requires us to focus full attention on the other person’s message.”

I wanted to add this post because I believe the information on empathy that Rosenberg gives is so critically important. It can be impossible to communicate completely with someone when they don’t know how to be empathetic. Sometimes, you just need to vent. Sometimes, you just need to be heard.

Rosenberg lists common behaviors that prevent us from being sufficiently present to connect empathetically with others:

Advising: “How come you didn’t…?” or “I think you should…”

One-upping: “That’s nothing. Wait ’till you hear what happened to me…”

Educating: “This could turn out to be a very positive experience for you if you just…”

Consoling: “It wasn’t your fault; you did the best you could.”

Story-telling: “That reminds me of the time…” (I call this shifting focus to oneself.)

Shutting down: “Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad.”

Sympathizing: “Oh, you poor thing…”

Interrogating: “When did this begin?”

Explaining: “I would have called but…”

Correcting: “That’s not how it happened.”

Oh man, I am guilty of doing so many of these when I really wanted to be there for someone, but didn’t know how. Now that my husband’s condition is so much on the forefront of my reality, I cringe at some of these when they are directed at me.

This communication language thing is very hard.

We know a speaker has received adequate empathy when we sense a release of tension or the flow of words has come to a halt.

When we can’t give empathy to others, it’s a sign that we need to give empathy to ourselves.

When we can speak our pain without blame, even people in distress can hear our need.

So why is empathy important?

Empathy allows us to reperceive our world in a new way and to go on.

And empathy gives us strength.

When we listen for feelings and needs, we no longer see people as monsters.

Empathy can help us mourn our past mistakes:

NVC mourning: connecting with the feelings and unmet needs stimulated by past actions we now regret.

There is incredible memoir fodder in the statement above.

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