Empathy takes many forms
I had a beautiful opportunity to
offer empathy to my daughter yesterday.
Empathy takes many forms and can be
expressed in many different ways.
It is a powerful force and when used well
can heal wounds,
and ease tension.
Empathy does not always mean saying something like:
“I hear that you are angry and I acknowledge your pain.”
Reflect And Connect
Sometimes this is the right approach,
but it is only the basic level of empathy.
There are many ways to reflect and connect emotionally
and experientially with people.
It takes time and practice
Like with any form of communication
or interpersonal relationship skills
it takes time and practice to make them natural.
Many people back away from these type of things
feeling like they are artificial, but really all skills are artificial at first
until we attain a certain level of proficiency.
So have patience with yourself
as you work on this important skill.
Don’t give up even when it feels awkward,
keep practicing because it can make
a huge difference in your relationship with your children.
Let me tell you what happened yesterday as an example.
If you know me or if you have been reading my blog
you are aware that I am a martial arts teacher.
My daughter the ninja
I have been teaching my daughter martial arts
pretty much from the day she was born.
She’s very skilled and very tough.
Often when I am preparing for a class
I will use her as my training partner to practice.
Yesterday I was doing a technique from one of the ancient scrolls
and it required me to strike in a particular place
on the body that causes great pain.
My daughter doesn’t really mind getting hit,
being a seasoned martial artist it’s natural for her.
You hit your daughter?
I find it funny when I write something like that
because I am so adamantly against spanking
or corporal punishment of any kind,
really I am against punishment of every kind,
and yet I talk about hitting my daughter.
In the context of martial arts it is fun and educational!
Respecting my daughter’s sensitivity
So with this particular technique the place I need to strike
is a place that she has a particular sensitivity about.
For some reason she does not like to be hit there,
she does not even like to be touched
on this particular nerve point.
So what I do is I just pick another point
that is close to it but
where she doesn’t have that sensitivity
and it’s not a problem for her.
We Always Have Fun When We Train Together
So we got through the whole training session
without an issue which is always lovely.
We laugh and laugh while we’re training because it’s a lot of fun.
After it was over I asked her:
“Do you still have that sensitivity just as strong as always?”
She told me that she is still sensitive there.
As she said this I could see a glimmer in her eyes
and a slight change in her expression
that made me feel like she felt
I might have been judging her
or disapproving of her
for still having that sensitivity.
Nothing could be further than the truth of course.
I know that these kind of things get into our subconscious
and aren’t easy to change.
In fact some of them last for a lifetime
and that’s just the way it is.
I wanted her to know I wasn’t judging her
It certainly isn’t something to feel bad about
and I wanted her to know that.
The thing is I knew if I just came out and told her that
it wouldn’t really have a deep effect.
She might not even have been aware
that she was feeling judged.
It is also possible that she judges herself
for that particular thing
and that feeling was reflected
when I questioned her about it.
So in response I started to talk about
the idea of these kind of sensitivities in general
and then shared my own experience with it.
“Isn’t the mind and body such an interesting thing?
I find it so fascinating how we can all get
these kind of sensitivities.
Sometimes we know why, sometimes we don’t.
It’s like me with how creeped out I get
when people scrape a fork across a plate.
I have to tell everybody around me not to do it
because it just sends pins and needles
up and down my spine and I just can’t take it.
Or it’s like how I can’t watch anything
that has first person video on it
because of watching The Blair Witch Project.
It makes me dizzy and nauseous and
I always have to close my eyes even if it’s just for a second.
I guess we all have these kind of sensitivities
and it’s just something that is part of life,
part of being human.”
Then I asked her:
“I wonder why I have such a strong
sensitivity to this fork on plate thing?”
Helping Her To Feel Accepted
She already knows both of these sensitivities that I have
because they come up all the time.
She does her best to be caring about them
and occasionally encourages me to work on them.
Bringing them up in the context of her own sensitivity
made her feel I could relate to her experience
and also normalized it because she could feel
how I was accepting myself and her at the same time.
Asking Her To Think About Me Encouraged Her To Think Of Herself
When I asked the question about
why I had the sensitivity of the fork on plate
she replied saying that probably I had some kind of
bad experience with that sound when I was younger
and it has a negative association now.
Asking her about my own sensitivity
was a way of getting her to reflect on her own
and this also added to her understanding and acceptance of herself.
Sneaking in Past Her Defenses
In talking about myself and the concept in general
without actually telling her I was trying to connect with her
and offer her empathy, she received this acceptance and
understanding from me with no defense.
It made her feel understood,
it made her feel like we were the same,
and that it was a natural experience.
I could immediately see the tension wash away from her
and in fact she felt better about it then she had before.
All Skills Are Awkward In The Beginning
When I first started to work with empathy
it was definitely more awkward and obvious.
With practice, like with any skill, I have gotten better at it
and found more subtle ways to express it.
Sometimes the more blunt and obvious way
is still necessary and appropriate,
but it is good to also have a wide range of ways to express empathy.
I Encourage you to look for moments
when your kids might feel that you are judging them
or setting yourself apart from them in some way
and find ways to help them feel connected and accepted.
I hope this example of my experience can help you with this.