1.the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Last night a group was discussing which politician had the most of it. While I know enough to know that I don’t know enough about politics to engage in a debate, I do know a bit about empathy. And it got me thinking….
For those of you who are so good at putting yourself in the shoes of others, anticipating others’ needs, and picking up on the subtleties of someone’s energy…does empathy build your energy or drain it?
(P.S. Often times the words sympathy, empathy, and compassion are thrown into one bucket which seems to be the case with my writing today, yet to be clear there are differences…. Here’s a link to that explains all of this quite well.)
Back to empathy. We all have access to it and for some, being a full-blown empath can lead to extreme forms of people-pleasing and as a result full-blown burnout. It’s an admirable trait to possess and can also be a double-edged sword especially if you’re an HSP (highly sensitive person… and you guessed it.. here’s the quiz to see if you are.)
Here’s an example:
“I’m so nice to you… I anticipate what you need and go above and beyond to make you happy…I can’t believe you did XYZ or didn’t reciprocate…. So I am going to tell you how I feel… OMG, I just told you how I felt and now I can feel your sadness and hurt as you hear my words so now I am feeling terrible that I stood up for myself because I hurt you…. Why am I so sensitive, empathetic, AND demanding????? I should just lock myself in a cave and stay away from people!”
The thing is, we can’t be selective with empathy. It’s something you decide to wholeheartedly embrace without expectations… and even more so without discrimination.
It’s easy to have empathy walking through the park and seeing the gentleman waking up in his sleeping bag with his belongings enclosed in a single garbage bag. For a moment (and if you’re an empath, most likely the rest of the day) you actually feel what it might feel like to sleep on the hardwood without the safety of a roof over your head, a bathroom to use, or freshwater to drink.
But doesn’t lack of empathy at times feel justified in situations that trigger you?
The family member who pushes your buttons… who wants to practice empathy in those moments?!
The boss whose behavior is the topic of titillating happy hour conversations… why ruin a good thing?
The jerk who cut you off in traffic… empathy would completely ruin the sweet release of blowing the horn (or worse!)
In fact, isn’t it more enticing to linger in the absence of empathy most often when it’s the people closest to us? Think about it.. and please tell me I’m not alone…but there’s this satisfying little nugget of pleasure to stay immersed in the essence of blame and judgment upon another when you are hurt? Who wants to try and feel what the person who just hurt you is feeling? It’s much easier and satisfying in the short term to dig the heels in and believe our unique experience is the only one playing out.
Yet the beautiful thing is, empathy is an invitation to dive into a deeper and more fulfilling way of being and a direct route back to source, the divine, God, our highest selves.
Empathy in its fullest sense is not for the faint of heart. It’s choosing to literally step into another person’s shoes and truly feel the feelings they are experiencing regardless of how hard we want to hold on to our version, our story, our experience, our assumptions, and our convictions of being right.
As always, the perfect teachers and messages come at the perfect time. This week while on a walk, I dove into module 2 of one of Eckhart Tolle’s online programs. At this moment, I was feeling little desire to feel or show empathy towards someone, but as I tuned into his teachings and by the end of my walk, I was beyond thankful for his wisdom.
In a nutshell, let me explain what I learned from him this week…
Basically, our egos love our “enemies” (or in a lighter sense, those who trigger us) as they are the energy that fuels the flame of separateness. Without our enemies, what becomes of our ego? Blaming our parents, boss, siblings or partner is like nectar for the ego’s hunger and once our “enemies” have been eradicated, what is left? In other words, creating a divide between yourself and empathy only allows for your ego to be strengthened and for you to continue to experience isolation.
I was so grateful for that moment of insight. Aren’t we all looking for ways in which to feel better each day in the simple daily exchanges with others? Don’t we all just want to feel good?
It was such a moment for me to realize that the people in my life I had struggled with were simply using me to strengthen their ego…and that I was doing the same with them. In fact, we both had been in service to one another’s ego by keeping “the story” alive.
Yet when the story is released, when the walls come down, and when empathy steps in… the ego quiets down. I don’t believe it goes away (except of course with Eckhart!) but that is okay.
And this is why I believe it takes courage to practice true empathy. It takes courage to say “no more” to familiar patterns that make you “right”… to release the desire to keep others in servitude to your ego… and to ultimately rise above the “stuff” and honor another person’s unique journey.
So I have a few questions for all of us to ponder this week:
1. Who are the people in your world who possess the ability to set you off, trigger, and disappoint you?
2. Who would you be without these reactions?
3. What would it feel like to practice empathy with these people? How would your own experience change? How would the relationship change?
The thing is, when we choose to step into empathy with those who trigger us the most, it softens the edges of the patterns and imprints we cling to and which continue to mess with our joy if left untended.
My final question to you is #4:
What is your personal definition of empathy?
For me, it is “courageously and lovingly stepping into a softer version of myself and THEN into someone else’s shoes regardless of their behavior towards me.” In other words, being a grown-up!
Do I have to agree with their behavior? No.
But wouldn’t you agree suffering decreases greatly when you choose empathy over blame? And at the end of the day really aren’t other people’s choices and behavior their own business?
Deep stuff for a Sunday but stuff that has lingered in my heart and mind for a while now. Thanks for reading.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this week’s topic.
Here’s a recap of the links above:
See you next week,