paths to empathy

There are at least two paths leading to being empathic.

When conflicts happen between two people, especially among family members, both are hurt and in pain. One way to reach the empathic state (being able to stand in the other person's shoes) is through self-criticism and rejection, for example,  “I’m being ungrateful because I didn't appreciate my family” or “You don’t deserve that relationship because you did…”. Self-criticism shakes people up and shifts from disconnection to gratitude because we were taught that's where empathy comes from.

Another path is being gentle and compassionate towards ourselves. We process the disconnection by understanding our feelings and unmet needs, for example, “I’m feeling frustrated because I needed mutuality (feeling equal)” or “I’m feeling sad because I needed to be able to trust our relationship”. Pausing and processing our feelings and needs is self-empathy. It calms our nervous system down and creates inner safety (that’s why it feels so good). When we experience empathy (even from ourselves), we are more likely to give it to others and reconnect (and connect).

Both approaches reach the same goal. But from the cultural point of view, they support very different social values in our society. The former reinforces the blaming culture (including towards ourselves). While the latter reinforces the connection culture. We connect with ourselves so we can be there for others, even in the most stressful situations.

Our choice in behavior isn't just a solution, it's a part of the culture we live in and has a much bigger impact than we realize in the world of connection.

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