How empathy will bless your work (if you learn to use it AND pause it)

giraffe teaching hedgehogs about needsOne day when I was thirty six, I heard the phrase “my beautiful needs” and it awoke me to the possibility of empathising with my experience instead of judging or manhandling it.

I hadn’t been exposed to anything like this before and it’s not an exaggeration to say that empathy changed and saved my life. And it’s allowed me to experience my working life as a satisfying quest.

How empathy melts people pain

You may not know this about me but, deep down, I often found work overwhelming and people disappointing untill that day when empathy crossed my path.

I’d worried about what it meant about me.

What I completely did not suspect was that I’d find GOOD news within the situation one day.

And yet, ever since that first conscious encounter with empathy, I’ve experienced MUCH beauty in and with people and – yes – also in my own endeavors.

No one had told me, because no one in my life untill then knew, that empathy can transform pain and the judgements that cause it.

If I could meet my distressed younger self,  I’d coo to her to help empathy flow and say this:

“Hey, little one, you look distressed. Are you?

Are you wanting to know there’s a way through?”

So how do you access empathy?

Here, I need to get a bit paradoxical on you. Because for me, empathy is both an inherent state of your being AND a life blessing skill you’ll  want to keep honing, both.

The very fact that you are an adult today means that someone was able to tune in with what you were needing as a baby, enough to rear you,  even though you couldn’t say what that was.

Somehow, your carers found empathy in them.

On the other hand, you probably experience judgements instead of empathy towards your needs  every day. Such is the conditioning of the prevailing culture that it allows empathy for babies but replaces it with judgments for adults!

This is why – to access empathy inside you, you must do some learning, esp. some un-learning.

Unlearning to block empathy

The poet Rumi speaks about “unlearning” better than I ever could, see if it touches you:

“Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built.”

This is completely different of the mainstream thinking that somehow suggests you cannot be acceptable or fulfilled unless you DO certain recommended “right” things.

True?

When you’re upset or uncomfortable, do you pause to realign with your innate wholeness or push for an action that seems to be a pre-condition to delivering you from distress?

I’ve done pushing so much in my life that I’ve experientially proved to myself it absolutely makes things worse, not better, yet I STILL do it, the more so the more I feel alarmed.

When I’ve exhausted myself trying to do something, I need an empathic friend to remind me to not just do something but BE there**, esp. to pause and check in with my body and needs.

Then, and only then I remember the “miracle” and peace returns to my system.

I believe un-learning that which disconnects you from life is hugely important.

It’s empowering to know how it is that you’re (innocently!) blocking empathy, when you do. It gives you an option to stop trying to “fix it” and allows love to resurface from inside of you again.

Where NVC* has been so helpful to me and clients is that it has named quite a lot of ways in which the flow of empathy gets diminished.

These actions are so “normal” in the culture that it’s hard to see yourself do them unless you know to look out for them. Knowing, you have a chance to do something new and better instead.

When to PAUSE empathy

So if it’s such a miracle, why would you ever pause empathy?

If you’re naturally more sensitive, your experience with empathy may well be of experiencing it “too much”.

I say “too much” in inverted commas because it’s an interpretation and who’s to say what’s best for you in any given time? I won’t.

However, you know it’s not fun (and probably not very helpful in the long run) to be aware of other people’s needs so much that you cannot sense the status of your own anymore.

Extra awareness and care for others is a special gift that comes with heightened sensitivity. You do well to love it and contribute this way.

At the same time, sensitivity specialists alert us to the fact that those who sense others especially well need to be able to switch that capacity off at times. You need to connect with and maintain your own wellbeing so you may tend to others well.

In the book “Empowered by Empathy”, Rose Rosetree put it this way:

“The trick is to learn how to switch the gift off.
If you don’t know how to use empathy on purpose,
your empathy is going to use you. (…)

Unskilled empaths suffer. It’s that simple.

To sum up, a good reason to “pause empathy”  would be to rest and recuperate. Another is to enable the flow of empathy for yourself but that’s not so much a pausing but redirecting.

One sign that you’re due a break is when being empathic begins to feel like another “should”. It’s definitely time to pause then.

May you access and pause empathy as you need it, dear One!

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* It was an introduction to Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in which awareness of your “beautiful needs” is a key teaching.

** “Don’t just do something, stand there” is empathic wisdom attributed to both Buddha and Jesus