Practicing Empathy

After I came home from the racial reconciliation day that I wrote about in my last blog, I needed reminders on how to respond to my internal emotions as well as to the people and stories I heard on that day. A short little video by Brené Brown on the topic of empathy came to mind. I sat down and watched this three minute video once again.

Brown’s advice on “perspective taking, staying out of judgment, recognizing emotion in other people, and then how to communicate that” were all great reminders. I have probably watched this video about five times since it was first introduced to me a year or so ago. I need concrete reminders.

There was a not so long ago day when I experienced skewed and unhealthy empathy. I got myself into some sticky situations. Holding healthy boundaries is a critical piece of practicing healthy empathy.

One chapter of my upcoming book is called Attachment and Emotions 101. These topics have taken study and professional help to land in healthy relation to so many truths of navigating the world of emotions. They have not always been my forté. I had to retrain my brain and work to understand true and healthy empathy. I have rewritten this particular chapter over and over again. It doesn’t come easily to me.  But I have in fact made great progress.

Brown’s suggested empathic response of “I know what it is like down here. You are not alone” gives specific words for situations when I am confronted with difficult emotions of another. Or when these words are not authentic, I suggest something like this: “I have no words. Thank you for sharing this with me.” Or even better sometimes, just a hug.

There are so very many places to practice empathy as I look around at my personal and communal life: The undocumented immigrant parent who has given specific instructions to their children on what to do if they get home from school one day, and they are gone; The rural base of support for Donald Trump that feels invisible, struggling for work, and left behind; The black moms at the conference who continue to struggle with everyday matters of racial injustice; My daughters as they navigate the world of middle school.

 photo credit: Ashleigh Cannon

photo credit: Ashleigh Cannon

Empathy requires vulnerability. It invites me to put myself in painful places from my own life experience and stories so that I can relate to others in the best possible ways. Where are you being called to be empathetic these days? I would love to hear from you.