Lately, the world has seemed loud and pushy to me. I log onto social media to immediately back out as the political content can be quite overwhelming. I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree and I think it’s important that people use social media how they see fit. So where does that leave me? Practicing empathy.
What is empathy? It seems like this touchy feely word that we throw around without really digging into it. In short, empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Maybe you don’t understand what the big hoopla is over a certain issue, but you know what it feels like to be afraid, or disappointed, or to feel uncertain. Empathy is connecting to the feeling rather than to the experience. It is a key ingredient in the recipe for being a good friend. Instead of judging your friend about her impending divorce or her unruly child, you can pause and search within yourself for a time in your own life when you experienced heartbreak or when you felt defeated.
Friends don’t always want our advice (or even our input!), but what we all crave so intensely is to be seen, heard, and understood. If you are with a friend whose story has you feeling scrambled, you can simply say, “Wow, that must be so confusing” or “I can imagine that you feel ________ (insert feeling) about it”. A few years ago, I was speaking with a mentor during a time in which I had experienced a loss and was feeling sad and uncertain. I had poured my heart out and her response was, “I don’t know what to say right now, but I’m just so happy that you told me.” It was such a healing response to hear her say those words as she wasn’t trying to fix me, or make me feel better, but rather to let me know that she had heard me.
The truth is we really don’t want to be fixed. We don’t share our hearts so that other people can make us feel better. We reach out and share because we want to feel connected to someone else. We want to feel less alone. We want to belong. Dr. Brené Brown states, “Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of, ‘you’re not alone’.”
To ease the strain of this season, let’s all try to listen more intently to each other. Let’s look each other in the eyes and talk over coffee. With every fiber of our being let’s put our energy into staying open and connected. By holding space for each other we will create stronger, deeper, more wholehearted relationships in which we can all just be who we are.
©2017 Jennifer Padilla-Burger, LMFT. All rights reserved.