ACCEPT & EXPRESS EMPATHY
How do we shift from superficial to substantial relationships?
When we are born we become the center of our own universe. Everything and everyone revolves around us. We look and search for things to fulfill our needs and hopefully someone is there to help us find them. But as we get older we become less reliant on others. We become autonomous and gain a sense of personal pride when we can finally help ourselves. This is the natural progression of growing up, but it seems that some of us have become too self sufficient.
At some point in our lives we chose to stop emotionally relying on others. Perhaps it’s because we were hurt or judged at an early age, we felt abandoned, or no one seemed to care anymore. Whatever happened, we disconnected from other people on a deeper level. We decided that it was easier to conceal our true identity so that no one could ever hurt us like that again. This mindset keeps us safe, but it also keeps us separated from truly being able to connect with others -even strangers. So why do we hold onto and reinforce this emotional distancing?
As creatures of habit, it’s easier to keep doing what we’ve always done than try something new or face our fears. But we are built to be social creatures! We all need and crave interaction to some degree. So when we complain to someone about our job, the weather, or our family we are actually seeking their approval or assessment. While this isn’t necessarily a deep, heartfelt moment, it’s still showing that we all seek validation from one another.
We just want to know that we’re not alone in what we think and feel -that we’re not crazy. Why else would we share our random thoughts or observations with others? When we talk about our own experiences there’s no objective truth to it, yet we still want to share because it’s in our nature. That is the essence of communication: a personal connection. But we can’t truly connect or have heartfelt moments if one side is closed off. So if we’ve built barriers around our heart, our emotions, and our true self, the only person who can break them down is us.
Since we can only change ourselves, there’s no use putting energy into breaking down someone else’s emotional wall. Thus the best way to form a connection is just by being you and answering with empathy. No one wants to hear about how they should act or feel from someone who is sitting on their high horse. We share information with others because we seek acknowledgment and understanding.
As humans we are all blessed and cursed to feel such a wide array of emotions. So when we have trouble interpreting them we look to others for guidance and context. In a way then we become dependent on others again. But this doesn’t have to be the same as before. Because when we are truly connecting, and not just communicating, we are relating to each other. We see their pain as our own pain, their frustration as our frustration, or their sorrow as our sorrow.
This doesn’t mean that we can fully understand what they feel, but that our own experiences with pain, frustration, and sorrow give us a common ground. We can now connect on a deeper level because both of us have dropped our emotional walls. Bonds are built when we realize that we’ve both suffered and we can share in our misery.
While this might seem somewhat depressing, this is the true power of empathy. When we emotionally validate one another we are saying, “Yeah that does hurt! I’ve been there too. I’m so sorry you have to feel this way.” All anyone really wants is to genuinely be heard. It’s not about fixing the situation or telling our own sob story. It’s about really listening to the emotions behind their words and feeling them for ourself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s our partner, child, friend, co-worker, or a stranger, we all want to know that we’re not alone and our highs and lows aren’t just our own. So when anyone can relate to us and help us understand our emotions, we feel a sense of relief and confirmation that we’re not crazy after all. With this deeper level of connection we are finally understood. We feel more at peace because we know that we are never alone and can once again turn our heart back into a home.
Practices & Motivations