I have wanted to look at Empathy and the actions that flow from this healing behavior for a long time now.
In the work that I do as a Therapist, but also by just trying to be empathetic as a human being, I think Empathy is one of the kindest and most profound of all expressions that a human being could render to another, as the picture above captures some of the all important characteristics and traits of Empathy. Please take some time to look at these “ingredients” of empathy.
There are other words and behaviors that are also associated with Empathy that lead to a deeper, meaningful and spiritual experience regarding Empathy and how it could be expressed or shared. These words are:
- Alleviating suffering
- and Well-being
Did you know that Empathy is one of three core ingredients that Psychologist Carl Rogers states will help a person open up and feel safe with another person and that Empathy is also associated with one of the most recognizable phrases and the story associated with it: “Love your Neighbor as yourself,” as Jesus encouraged us to respond tenderly and empathetically to others, as the Good Samaritan did when he came upon someone who was severely injured? Seen in this way, Empathy really is one of the most important characteristics in our human experience because it not only touches the core of us as people, but in some cases, could be the difference between whether someone lives or dies.
But when I look at myself and my record at delivering empathy, I am challenged to live in an empathetic place and deliver these necessary ingredients to others, sometimes when they need it the most. I’m embarrassed to say that at times in my life I have come up short when others in my environment needed tenderness, sensitivity, compassion, sympathy and understanding.
So that’s why I’m writing this post: because just as Carl Rogers (and my God in Heaven) prompt and encourage me to develop the characteristic of Empathy, and to become proficient in the practice of all that involves Empathy, I want to cultivate this trait because I understand that Empathy could help others heal from any form of pain or hurt they may be experiencing. I also hope that by sharing my suggestions and applications in the next 5 – 10 brief posts about Empathy, that you too will also learn about, develop and practice this much needed characteristic with your “neighbors.”
Let’s start with this…
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” – Proverbs 16:24 (TNIV)
Delivering an empathetic response to another at the right time, for the right reason, in the right tone with the right words is therapeutic and will go a long way toward bringing healing to any situation where one or both people may feel psychologically bruised or injured.
Being in the frame of mind where you learn how to keep a “finger on the pulse” of any situation that deserves an empathic response is a skill to develop and grow, but when developed and delivered, more than likely your empathetic response facilitates understanding, reconnection and it opens the door to re-establishing intimacy between you and another because safety has been demonstrated.
Since empathy is such a critical part of the healing process in our relationships and in our encounters with others, let’s take a closer look at this important ingredient of healing and the necessary process to cultivate this essential “fruit.”
EMPATHY 101: From the Greeks, we learn that Empathy (Empatheia), is a compound word, formed from “In” + “Passion or Suffering.” The English word is relatively new, coined by Psychologist Edward Titchener in 1909. Titchener defined Empathy as “projecting yourself into what you observe” and according to Titchener, a key feature of achieving Empathy is by way of Introspection.
Introspection is the conscious and purposeful examination and reporting of your own thoughts, feelings, desires, sensations and is a reflection of what is going on in your soul and spirit. Based on these brief descriptions, demonstrating a basic, but informed Empathetic response arises from your…
- Being able to examine your own thoughts, feelings, desires, to the inner most depth of your soul/spirit,
- Being able to accurately articulate what you discover regarding your own self-examination and self-observation,
- Being able to examine, observe and to pick up on the cues of what your spouse/friend is thinking, feeling, desires, even to the inner most depth of his or her soul and spirit,
- Being able to accurately articulate to your spouse/friend what you discover and observe, especially in the core area of feeling and emotion, as a key component of Empathy is understanding the suffering experience,
- Being able to investigate and seek knowledge and other relevant information from your spouse/friend that helps you to obtain a fuller and more complete picture of his or her suffering experience,
- Staying patiently engaged in the process, until you accurately deliver Empathy (“Empathize”), with your spouse/friend.
Application #1: Work to increase your knowledge of what thoughts and feelings are in your heart and most importantly, what thoughts and feelings are in the heart of your spouse.
As you could see, this is a tall order. As a Therapist, I work with couples who have unfortunately experienced the pain and hurt that accompanies infidelity. In addition to not quite knowing how to deal with the hurt and shame that surfaces with the unfaithfulness, I sometimes find that the “offending” spouse, in his or her discomfort, will want the “offended” spouse to “get over and get past” things quickly. I’ve found that getting past things quickly is a mark of, and a dynamic of addiction: pursuing immediate gratification.
In recovery, and in order to facilitate healing, especially when you are talking about cultivating love, Empathy, and other edifying fruit for the journey is to be cultivated patiently. Patience comes from the Latin word “Patiens,” which means, “I am suffering.”
I’ll share with the couple that until the offending spouse is able to deliver empathy, and the “patient” (the offended spouse) is able to taste and be strengthened by the sweet fruit of Empathy, the suffering will probably continue, and observing the suffering of the offended spouse is a sign that there is more work to do to cultivate and deliver empathetic responses in the relational garden.
At times like this, in order to help the offending spouse (or anyone who wishes to develop the skills of Empathy), I’ll ask them to review the “KNOW the TRUTH” tools (Part 2 of 3 and Part 3 of 3) to assist them in their ability to enhance and grow their “knowledge ability” and to be successful in their attempts at delivering on the six points listed above.
Thanks for being willing to take this journey with me to discover what Empathy is and how to effectively grow it and to deliver it. Future posts on Empathy will be labeled “Empathy #1,” “Empathy #2” and “Empathy #3” and so on.
Also, thanks for visiting and please visit the other blogs written by Dr Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful. I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.
TeleHealth/Video counseling sessions are available for those who prefer to meet online – Dr. McGill