Empathy or Enabling by Anne Beaulieu

Put yourself in my shoes!” yelled my 14 year old daughter to me before storming out of the kitchen crying. As I heard her bedroom door slam, I whispered softly, “I am trying, sweetie, more than you might possibly know.”

The sale offer for the house had been finalized and I had just announced to my daughter that we were moving downtown and would be about one hour away from her school and friends. She was adamant she was not moving. She was determined to finish high school where her two elder siblings had graduated from before her.

In the past, when I talked about the house being for sale, she usually became quiet, silent, withdrawn, as if the landscape outside the kitchen window was far more interesting than what I had to say. If I asked her if she was listening to any I was sharing about the house, she often turned her head sharply to me, two “daggers” suddenly “piercing”, and with her lips pinched tightly together, continued being ‘silent’….

Many parents have to make life decisions that have been disliked by our children. So, when a child or an adult says, “Put yourself in my shoes!”, what exactly are they asking us to do? I believe EMPATHY is primarily seeing another person’s feelings and perspectives THROUGH THEIR LIFE FILTERS.

When we are asked to show empathy and put our self in someone else’s shoes, we might want to remember these 4 tips:

1. Hold our self in check. If we cannot hold our self in check, if we let our emotions run high, how can we ever be able to tune in without distortion to someone else’s feelings and emotions?

2. Become attentive to what is verbally spoken. Take an active interest in the other person’s concerns. Ask, “What exactly is troubling you right now?” If we are unable to zero in on exact concerns, how is it possible to ever put our self in someone else’s shoes?

3. Listen actively for unspoken emotions. We all know underneath the blanket of anger is a hurt/wounded person. Focus on understanding where the other person’s potential hurt comes from.

4. Visualize and show sensitivity to another’s perspective. Empathy is felt by using someone else’s life filters to relate to their feelings and emotions. In this light, empathy is also known as the gateway to compassion.

In a situation requiring empathy, what happens if we cannot hold our self in check? We might most likely take on the other person’s feelings and emotions as our own, meaning that their drama becomes our drama.

What happens if we are inattentive to what is verbally spoken? We might most likely make up stuff about them, meaning: telling the other person what they are supposed to or should be feeling right now.  

What happens if we address the anger instead of the underneath hurt? It is my belief we then waste precious time arguing for the crap one party or both people want(s) to be right about.

What happens if we use our own filters to show empathy? Then it is not called empathy, my friend.

At what point does empathy become enabling? It is my belief that empathy becomes enabling when we consistently lack discernment (knowledge of self and of what works for us and what doesn’t). Since judgment is always about others and discernment is always about the self, when we lack discernment, we are unable to hold our self in check.

Think about it for a moment….How can anyone possibly sort out what is ‘mine’ and ‘theirs’ when they are unclear about their own self, what they want, what they need, and/or how to uphold their own emotional boundaries?

When we lack discernment, we are unable to pay close attention to what is being spoken. The proof? How much healthy attention can we give another human being if our head is stuck into our own problems? In my case, very little if any at all.

When we lack discernment, we talk to the blanket of anger and ignore the real person underneath it…. Let me ask you, where is the empathy in doing that?

When we lack discernment, we believe everyone sees our world through our own filters. I don’t know about you, but I can call this a whole bunch of names, except ‘empathy’. Knowing that enabling is allowing a self-destructive behaviour to passively continue taking place, do you now see now how empathy necessitates a high level of discernment, state clearly what works for the self, or watch empathy gradually disintegrate into enabling over time?

What are you going to choose?

About the Author: Anne B1annbeaulieuEAULIEU is one of Your Monthly Mentors, an international speaker, empowering coach, and thought leader in the field of Emotional Intelligence and the Founder of Walking Inside Resources Inc. based in Vancouver, British Columbia. As an accomplished author and community builder, Anne is a powerful catalyst for positive change and embodies successful life strategies that keep empowering men and women across the globe. Read More…   

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