Some might counter and say what’s so important about empathy? I don’t really like people all that much and I prefer my own company anyway. While it’s true that our desire for or need to interact with other people varies a great deal from person to person, we were biologically designed as social creatures. I mean think about it, until the Petri dish arrived, the perpetuation of our species was only made possible by interaction. But I digress, sure there are people who are very happy being on their own, to a point. My dad was one of those kinds of people. He was very content in his later years to be behind his computer trading stocks or at the boatyard scrubbing the keel of his sailboat to make it go faster for racing. But when I look back, he was at his happiest when he was out on the Long Island Sound with his “crew” racing and competing against the other sailors or when he would grudgingly pull himself away from his computer to play with his grandchildren when they were young for about twenty minutes. He was what could be accurately termed as your typical “stoic” German who didn’t show his emotions or share his inner most thoughts. But that of course didn’t mean that he didn’t have them. He was a great man, father, provider and extremely intelligent, but was he happy?
Revisiting The Mindfulness Breakthrough, by Sarah Silverton, she says on page 117; “We are all unique in the way that we connect with one another, and our particular style of relating to others is determined by a blend of our genetic inheritance, learned behaviors and attitudes from our parent of carers as we are growing up, and experiences that we have throughout our lives, particularly during our child hood and adolescent.
Our sense of who we are and how we relate to others develops as the people around us in our early years tune in (“attune”) to us and help us to make sense of ourselves and our experiences. An important, but not necessarily frequent, experience in our lives is to feel that another person really understand what it’s like to be us-this is sometimes called “resonance”.”
Before I get to the flipside of resonance which is empathy, let me just point out that SOME people who develop dependency issues, feel like “nobody” understands and gets them. It certainly doesn’t help if you never or poorly developed the ability and skill to open up and really express yourself. If you are reserved and isolationist in your approach, it’s hard for people to get to know you.
Of course, in order for people to understand us, it is equally important for us to try and understand them. For who really is going to care much about you if you clearly could care less about them. That’s why it is so very, very important to develop the ability to empathize with our fellow human travelers. I think Sarah very nicely defines empathy as; “the capacity to sense the inner state of another person.” In basic terms it means to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes, understand where they are coming from and MOST importantly, CARING about what they think and feel!
Again, SOME people with dependency issues have a hard time with the empathy thing because they are so caught up in their own minds that they don’t have the ability to do so. In order to be able to empathize with others, obviously we need to know where they are coming from and in order to be able to do that, we have to become “good listeners”. In order to develop good listening skills, you also have to be present. If you are full of anxiety about where the conversation is going to go (future) or about similar conversations you’ve had with this person or even others previously (past), you are already fighting a losing battle.
In The Freedom to Recover, I write quite a bit about both developing good listening skills and how the element of time (past and future) effects our ability to be here now, where all the important decision making, interaction and living take place. For some people it comes naturally and for others it’s a struggle and challenge. For me personally, it’s still one of the areas in my life that is developing and it requires discipline and well…..empathy :->
So unless you live on a deserted island and you like it that way (do you really?), then you have to learn how to play nicely in the sandbox of life and that means listening and caring about those around you. If you show an interest in the world and those in it, it has a funny way of returning the favor!
Peace out folks,