fake doesn’t count

February 16, 2010 at 8:49 pm 2 comments

A while ago, Xi, the six-year-old of the family, and I were discussing empathy. We were going over the things you can say to someone to let them know that you are understanding their feelings. Like: oh, you are hurt, or, are you sad?, or, you seem like you’re angry.

Xi immediately nodded her head and said: But you say it for real right? Not in a fake way.

I was glad she had pointed this out. Yes, honesty is essential. Empathy isn’t just a script.

Fast forward to today. Echo was feeling sad and mad. I was stopping her from playing with some moldy bath toys I had culled from the bottom of the bath toy box. I held  her in my arms and said all the correctly empathetic things. But… my mind was on other things. I wasn’t really trying on her angst. I wasn’t really all the way with her and her feelings. In short I was empathizing, to quote Xi, in a fake way.

Echo noticed. Her crying continued.

When I asked her what she needed she said:

I just wish Papi was home.

Why do you wish Papa was home?

Because then he could take a picture of me feeling sad.

Oh jeez. My heart winced.  It seems I wasn’t bearing true witness to her feelings, she needed evidence to prove her emotional position. I convinced her to let me take the picture. Her sad feelings evaporated in the time it took to swing the camera around and show her the image.

Maybe that is all empathy ever is, a “seeing” of someone’s feelings. An acknowledgement that at this time, on this day, a particular feeling was felt.

So simple.


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

blogging through mud oh universe

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Krista  |  February 18, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    And oh, man, is there an absolute shift when you *really* receive that pure, unhindered acknowledgment. I literally feel my body, all of my insides shift and calm when someone really takes the time to do that. This pure empathy is such a gift to receive and to give. I don’t need them to agree with me, or to offer solutions, or analyze me (in fact, I find that very distracting and frustrating), but to just sense that they are taking the time and energy to really “be with me” where I am for a few moments in an authentic, present way. It’s absolutely precious.

  • 2. Krista  |  February 18, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    (and isn’t it amazing how you can’t fool a kid)


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