Empathy, the new buzz word.

I’ve been watching the news lately regarding empathy. There are lots of articles, here, here and here, for example, about how to help our children develop empathy. I see a longing to help our children have more empathic lives; to act in compassionate, caring ways. But I see something missing.

If we define empathy as being able to walk in someone else’s shoes, to understand their perspective, we are missing self-empathy. I believe that we have to experience self-empathy before we have the capacity to be open to empathy with others. I would love to see this focus with our children.

We can use the same activities. For instance, if I decide to take my child to a mental health museum, rather than talking about what it must have been like for the people in that institution, I would talk with my child about the feelings and needs this brings up for my child. This is a great way to get at some beliefs my child might have, and to explore those. It’s the self-awareness that I would be going for. I might then find there are some beliefs or thoughts my child has about themselves that causes them to feel uncomfortable. Then I can help them with self-empathy.

Empathy is pure presence according to Marshall Rosenberg. We bring nothing from our own past into that moment. We are entirely present and open to the other person. I find it’s helpful to take the time to work on self-awareness. The more clear you get about yourself, the more you explore what stimulates strong feelings in yourself and follow those feelings to the underlying beliefs, the more you release yourself from the judgments attached to those beliefs, the easier it will be to be completely present with others without bringing anything from your past.

The more grounded we become in self-empathy, the more clear we get on our own beliefs and the more adept we get at loving ourselves, accepting ourselves, the more open we will be to loving and accepting others.


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