How many times have you been upset and tried to share your feelings with someone, only to find their style of comforting you makes things even worse? If you're anything like me, eventually you stop sharing and some sort of emotional disconnect ensues.
The missing ingredient in these kinds of scenarios is simple. It's called EMPATHY. In the dictionary, empathy is a noun described as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another." To have empathy means I put my feelings aside for a moment to imagine what it must feel like to be you.
No need to fix.
No need to solve.
No need to top.
The only requirement of empathy is to be present, curious, understanding and compassionate. If you have a reaction to what another person is sharing, save it for later. Empathizing is not the time to tell your similar story or give advice. It's the time to be a loving witness to someone else's experience. Letting him or her know afterwards that it makes sense to you how they feel even if you don't agree or have a better solution.
Empathy is like a bomb diffuser. It's difficult to maintain an angry or painful position when the other person doesn't argue back, instead taking a precious moment to witness and reflect what life must be like in your shoes. Empathy is a soothing balm to our vulnerable hearts, thwarting protective parts that either lash out or shut down when we feel hurt because we fear admitting the truth might escalate tensions and/or rupture our connection.
In my consulting practice, it's very difficult to motivate clients to get new results or change patterns of behavior unless I've taken the time to fully understand and empathize with the situation that's currently creating their desire for change. But once they feel 'gotten,' then it's much easier to introduce new perspectives because their 'sponge' isn't so full anymore, and they don't have to defend the way they feel because I've made space for them to show up as they are. Because the truth is, nobody is open to hear my take on things without first feeling like I get their situation. Does that resonate?
There's a release that comes from feeling empathized with. Suddenly it's easier to be in the present moment. To smile and laugh again. And nothing needs to be solved to get there. It's the feeling that comes from not being alone in our pain any longer. It's the gift of being witnessed and not judged. Next time your friend or loved one is in pain (or is a pain), I dare you to demonstrate some empathy. Let go of the tension that shows up when they share and relax the urge to change things. Your job is to let it go, and focus on understanding the feelings of the other person. That’s it!
Speaking of daring, here is an excellent video called "The Power of Empathy" narrated by Dr. Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, that easily demonstrates the healing power of understanding someone else's point of view.