i feel so irritated by your feelings

October 26, 2009 at 5:00 am 2 comments

PEAS Farm, missoula

I find it the most difficult to provide genuine empathy when:

  • I am having a difficult time myself (upset about something else, feeling defensive about the feelings the other person is having, etc.)
  • I am hungry, cold, or need to pee.
  • I don’t understand WHY the person is having these particular feelings.

The last one is the kicker. I almost always have to pee, to some degree, and I almost always have something on my mind that provides a bit of distraction, but if I am able to understand why my child, partner, or friend is experiencing their feelings I can cope.

We went to a fantastic celebration at a local farm today to carve pumpkins, drink fresh warm cider, and ride ponies. And Missoula turns out for these things like you would not believe, so many good natured children and parents. The sun was shining. Our coats were off. There was the smell of hay in the air. Basically heaven, in my opinion.

And then, inexplicably, Xi starts to act funny, well scared actually. We sidled up to a picnic table with our farm grown pumpkins to settle in to some good old fashioned carving and Xi was scared. Scared? She didn’t like the goopy pumpkin guts, that part I anticipated and was ready to do all scooping necessary. But she kept saying (and crying) she was scared and couldn’t articulate why. She eventually said she wanted a small round table by ourselves, which of course was not available. I finally put her between Bella and Echo and she calmed a bit, but I was so irritated.

Her feelings felt so inconvenient.

And then the ponies. Ponies! Nope, too scared. Even with essential oils for bravery on her wrists, too scared.

Xi scared

Poor Xi.

It sure can be tricky. You try to summon the empathy even though there are major mental and emotional hurdles to get over. Then you get there and guess what? The kid may still have the feelings. (They may still behave the same way no matter how much empathy you muster.)

So why do it?

Because in her heart, the day she was scared and couldn’t say why, will be recorded. And she was not put on the pony to “sink or swim”, she was not ridiculed or ignored. Her heart will make an imprint of the hugs, the love, and the patience. She may even remember the day as a pleasant one.



Entry filed under: empathy. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

empathy delivery not…alone

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Krista  |  October 26, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Hmmn, sounds like you were needing some empathy yourself in that moment of irritation! Self-empathy, or maybe a little time away from the “scene” to connect with yourself and maybe even Xi, away from the distraction and crowd?

    I enjoyed your making the point that often when we offer empathy to someone, it is possible that they will still have the same feelings. It’s so important that empathy comes from a place of pureness, untainted from a desire to “fix” feelings or make the go away. A place of utter acceptance that even in our connection, we are still separate individuals with ownership of all of our feelings and experiences. I love it when I see parents embracing and honoring a child’s feelings (all of them, even the tough ones), as I have so many memories of mine being denied as a child. It wasn’t safe to feel. So when I see this, and practice it with my own children, it’s a healing balm for me.

    In appreciation for what you share here.


  • 2. Carol B  |  October 26, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    I, too, have lots of trouble when I don’t understand the “why” behind the feelings. I try everything I can think of, and then end up feeling as though *I’ve* done something wrong, which never helps, of course. I know this, but… I guess I’m still stuck in wanting to fix things. But isn’t that what you’re supposed to do to fix the underlying need In Krista’s post today?

    I’m getting to do this a second time, with my granddaughters – and still I don’t manage to do it. Lately we’ve been in a harder phase with the 38 month old. We also have a 14 month old and keeping them from hurting each other is a daily challenge. “I’m hugging her” “Yes, but she’s asking you to stop. You need to respect her feelings, too.” That kind of thing.

    Thanks for helping me know I’m not alone.


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