Empathy is one of my favorite words because it is a builder of relationships. It is needed like salad dressing to a salad to keep the good taste alive and going in the interactions of people.
Recently, there have been articles with pictures on the Internet with animals showing empathy of comfort and support to other animals which makes me think that this is an innate capacity all things living have. My experience however is that often we tend to be fearful of using it as though we would expose our feelings of vulnerability to our emotions. It is easier to give advice and to tell others how they should feel like, “don’t cry, it’s going to be alright” hoping that will stop those emotions from reveling themselves to you.
A good response would be to pause a moment to remember a time that you felt that way, had a similar experience of being disappointed or not being included for example. Reflect back by your words and body language how you identify with that emotional experience. Now you are doing empathy. Watch for the response to check if you were accurate.
Our emotions are the external expression of 36 basic needs. If most of them are not met consistently at certain periods of our lives, self esteem begins to diminish and negative, sometimes destructive feelings become our default response. Sometimes we meet others whom we sense seem angry, easily annoyed, discouraged and it is difficult to relate to them. It is helpful to try empathy at those times instead of judge because there is probably a need or two that is still waiting to be met and they are simply projecting that.
The well being of the family as a whole is maintained when each one can express their concerns and receive recognition and appreciation for their thoughts and feelings. Two authors, Nick Stinnett and John Defrain, describe six characteristics of strong families: commitment to each other’s welfare, appreciation, communication, time, coping in stressful situations and a sense of a greater power in life. Findings from a number of studies focus on seven “healthy traits”
1. attending to mind and body signals
2. confiding with another
3. commitment to life’s challenges
6. giving spirit
7. self understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses.
Family home life needs to be an emotional “safe haven” for each member in which interest and appreciation are regularly shown, problems worked through and traditions and values modeled and practiced.
Katherine Eberhard is a semi-retired Clinical Social Worker with 35-plus years counseling families, children and individuals. She has been a resident of Lees Summit over the past 27 years and in practice here since 2001.