Posts tagged ‘unconditional love’

honing my super powers

Thanks for all the kind words in your recent comments. I appreciate it a lot and feel renewed. Thanks.

Something came up for me today that invited a deeper look into this whole empathy thing.

So far I have talked a lot about empathy for our children, and under some circumstances approaching them from an empathic perspective can be difficult. It’s hard to drum up empathy for your son when he is mad that you won’t let him hit his sister. But even then, it isn’t impossible to intellectually prepare yourself and come up with: Yeah, you’re mad. You really want to hit your sister and it’s frustrating to you that I’m not letting you. His interest may not make sense to you, but there is so much about kids that doesn’t make sense, that understanding isn’t always a prerequisite to stepping into their shoes and feeling the anger.

And I’ve talked about giving and receiving empathy from the community, from friends that listen and don’t offer advice. This is probably the easiest place to try empathy. It feels good to be a shoulder to cry on, and it feels good to be the one crying on a neutral, non-judgmental shoulder. So I would say that most of us are pretty well practiced at empathy with our children and friends. But what about those other relationships? What about our mothers, husbands, sisters, brothers?

Let’s just call this arena, advanced-empathyland, because it can feel mythical, so remote from our daily life as to feel theoretical. I’m talking about finding the strength of person to bring forth empathy in challenging circumstances. Let me try on some examples to get my point across.

Maybe, after a day of worrying about what to cook for dinner, with an empty fridge, and no money to call for takeout, your brother calls to vent about his money situation. He says he’s making less money than last year, he had to tell his wife she couldn’t go to Las Vegas with her friends, he’s thinking of selling their time share in Mexico because it’s too hard to make the payments. Your mind is screaming: Give me a break! Oh boo hoo, you have to sell your time share. You jerk! I don’t even know how I’m going to feed my children!! Your brother is aware of your extremely tight budget so you feel particularly uncared for, and mad. In this situation are you capable of giving him empathy?

Or, even more challenging…

Your husband is MAD. He says you left an interior light on in the car, now the battery is dead and he’s going to be late for work. He is FURIOUS. You’re certain that you didn’t leave any such light on in the car and are absolutely NOT responsible for the battery going dead. You are defensive and pissed at him for yelling, and for blaming you. Are you capable of feeling empathy for him?

Why not?

If your child was irrationally raging at you, you could probably summon up the emotional strength to be there for him or her during those feelings. Oh wow. You’re really mad… You didn’t want me to do that….etc. Why can’t we summon this up for a husband?

To be fair, the emotions you feel in response to someone else’s feelings can be blinding. There is adrenaline. The primitive/”natural” response is fight (Why are you yelling at ME?! I didn’t have anything to do with it!), or flight (this looks like slamming the bathroom door and crying into the hand towel). It takes an intellectual decision to choose an empathic response, and then a high degree of emotional intelligence to follow through.

Why do it?

There is a practical side. The quickest way to end an argument is through empathy. It simply is not an argument if one person is lovingly listening to the other, not defending, not trying to fix things, or dismiss the feelings behind it all.

Also, all anyone wants is to be heard and understood. You are not responsible for their feelings, and have no need for a defense. You can simply listen and understand, even when under attack. I know you really don’t want to be late for work.  Shit.  You seem really upset. You’ve got to be emotionally big to do this, there is no doubt about it, but it is possible. And if this is possible for you, then you have achieved a certain liberation, the ability to be okay, no matter what anyone else is doing or saying. That is a huge reward.

Let’s be clear. This does not mean denying your own feelings. The feelings you have in response to the other person’s feelings are valid and present. They just aren’t what you are talking about at the moment. There might come a time in the discussion when the roles are reversed and your partner/husband/sister is able to give you empathy for the feelings that you have in response to theirs, if so, how nice. But that is not something to count on. It may never come. (It might be possible to make an agreement to give or receive empathy  for a set number of minutes and then switch, but I find this highly unlikely. A timer going off in the middle of discussion just would not feel right.). Instead give empathy with all your might, even if you never get any in return. If needed later, there are others to turn to to get a dose of empathy, including yourself.

One huge road block on this path is the belief that giving a person empathy means that you condone their choices or agree with their perspective. This is not true. You can understand your son’s anger, see clearly what it would feel like to be that mad, and how hitting the sister might feel like a suitable response without agreeing that hitting is an okay choice. Hitting is still not okay, but the boy and his feelings are. You can understand your husbands frustration, love and listen to him, even while he blames you for ruining his morning, without agreeing that it is your fault. You are not a weak woman if you do this, you are a superwoman.

Empathy in this advanced-empathyland does not come easily for me. While safely removed from the scene my mind can wrap around it quite easily, but my primitive bunny brain sure wants to run for the bathroom when the shit goes down. I don’t want to be a bunny hiding in the bathroom. I don’t want to be a hard scratchy place for my upset loved ones. I want to be liberated. So I am praying for the strength to recognize the opportunity for empathy each time it arises. The opportunity to stand tall and give, give, give.

Superwomanhood here I come.


February 3, 2010 at 9:54 pm 2 comments

who’s your grandpa?

holding hands

This is what we all want right? A strong pillar of immense unconditional love, adoringly accompanying us through our journeys, and smiling benevolently all the while.

Moms and dads make sure the teeth are brushed and say no to watching another movie. Grandparents play, snuggle, paint toe nails, read stories, and watch new jumping skills. Okay, parents do all this too, but grandparents have full licence to do only these things. And hear hear to that.

But maybe we school-marmy parents could take a lesson from the grandparent playbook, and do a little less of the herding, chiding, and reminding, and a little more of the just plain adoring. Sure, the laundry will pile up, and yes, the teeth will develop a yellow fuzz, but these tasks do not have to be all consuming.

Today I watched my dad watch Echo jump, what seemed like a hundred times, and each time he was really watching.

I was grandparented well and I know what that feels like. I want that for my children. I want to be that for my children. But I also want to be that for my partner, for my sister, for my mother and father. I want to be that, for instance, for the crabby waitress at the airport lounge that wanted to go home so badly.

And why not? The more I think about it the more I question why I would ever want to be any different. If I were able to choose a part to play, I would not consciously choose the negative controlling one. I would not aspire to be the woman that holds her man back, or the friend that gently undermines relationships with cheery but cleverly cutting remarks.

So instead I will consciously choose the grandparent role. I’m going to grandparent every human being I can. I’m going to chuckle indulgently and let my eyes crinkle with delight. I’m going to murmur gently and talk in the third person, here, baby, let Gramma make it better for you.

Okay, I might do this silently and invisibly, maybe never even actually interact, but I know that my intentions will be felt regardless. It feels good to be loved.




November 4, 2009 at 5:00 am 2 comments

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