My definition of empathy is an open and honest attempt to feel into the other’s experience. I can be with someone’s sadness, rage, pain, confusion, embarrassment, joy, or excitement because I’ve felt those feelings. I love how Brene Brown said it in her empathy video, “Empathy is a choice. And, it’s a vulnerable choice. Because, in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”
The ability to communicate empathy with someone can be meaningful and healing to that person because they experience being seen, heard, and understood. During a mediation, I give empathy to those engaged in the conflict by neutrally telling (or asking) them what they might be feeling because of what they might be needing. Even though my empathy statements don’t always resonate with them, at the very least, they start to think about what might be true for them. When empathy does resonate, they’re nodding their heads and saying, “Yes,” because someone is affirming their experience.
I firmly believe that if I want to give to others, I must first and foremost attend to myself. So, to empathize with others, I must first give myself empathy. I’m the only expert on my life. I’m the only one who knows what I value, what I need, and what’s important to me. Even though it’s magical when someone else figures it out for me, I can’t expect them to. If I do, this will lead to suffering. I’m empowered when I understand and clearly communicate what I want, what I need, and what’s important to me. My self-worth and self-love grow stronger.
I give myself empathy when I am triggered. Sometimes I find that I’m empathizing with myself daily, multiple times a day, depending on how my life is unfolding. To give myself empathy, I use this simple format from Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication. I acknowledge how I feel because of what I want/need:
“I’m (state what I feel)…, because (state what I want/need)…”
Here are some examples:
“I’m agitated, because I want space.”
“I’m frustrated, because some people aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities for the project. I need others to share the responsibilities with me.”
“I’m sad, because my body aches. I want to take better care of myself.”
“I’m confused, because I don’t understand what you are saying. I need you to be clearer.”
When I was first introduced to this format, even though I knew how to identify my feelings, I was struck by how unaware I was of my needs (needs are also defined as your life-serving values). By acknowledging both my feelings and my needs, I started to take care of myself in a new and refreshing way. This has led to healing, deeper self-connection, clearer communication, and has reduced the intensity of both internal and external conflicts.
I’m inviting you to do the same. Give yourself empathy every day for two weeks and see what emerges. Here is a link to free Nonviolent Communication (NVC) resources that come from the website, GROK THE WORLD. At the bottom of the page, you can download free lists of feelings and needs/values. As you look through the sheets, a miracle happens. Once you see the word, you’ll know what you’re feeling and needing. It truly is this simple. As you practice, giving yourself empathy will get easier and not seem cumbersome. You’ll be able to quickly give yourself empathy. For example, “I’m grouchy. I need food.”
You also don’t necessarily have to be triggered to give yourself empathy. You could say, “I’m thrilled, because I get to relax and play.” The more you give to yourself, the better your ability will be to give to others. If you decide to try this, I would love to hear about your experience. I’ll feel joy knowing that others are developing their self-love through self-empathy.
© 2018 The Empowered Communicator. Vanessa Alfaro. Communication Coach & Mediator. All Rights Reserved. Website: CodePineHills