The most common definition of empathy that you have probably heard is the act of “stepping into someone else’s shoes”. It is the genuine attempt to fully understand what it is like to be that person. That sounds great, but, unfortunately, we generally struggle with this. We often get narrow vision of our perspective and place a higher value on our perspective than others. In conflict or disagreement we often make the mistake of listening to reply rather than LISTENING TO UNDERSTAND. This mistake can make or break the outcome of our communication with our spouse and others.
Let’s explore an example of how empathy is often lacking in our communication with our significant others.
Spouse expresses a complaint and related emotion….
“You don’t appreciate what I do around the house. You don’t say thank you and you have not been cleaning up after yourself like you promised. When are you ever going to pull your weight in this relationship?!”
Natural response for the spouse might be defend that (of course) and we often try to do that with logic. Some version of…
You shouldn’t feel that way and let me tell you all the data I have to prove that your feelings are illogical….I took out the garbage on Monday, I told you that I appreciated that you got me coffee this morning…
This might seem like a reasonable reply but ask yourself this… Has it ever resulted in your partner saying “you are so right and you are so smart and I no longer feel upset with you”? That is what we are striving for, but it rarely happens when we try to combat emotion with logic. What often happens is the opposite, they dig their heels into their position and turn up the volume on it. You become greater opponents. You have not acknowledged what if FEELS like to be them and therefore they have to say it somehow in a bigger way.
The partnership of logic and empathy
Logic doesn’t work on its own because it is missing a critical partner…Empathy. With empathy, we are able to reduce the negative emotion. We are also able to create influence. No one wants to consider your perspective if they don’t feel like you have a good understanding of their perspective.
NOTE: Saying “I understand” does not cut it. It has become a meaningless phrase. Your job as an empathetic listener is to make them believe you truly understand. How do you do that? That is right! Empathy. Identify the emotion of their story/perspective.
Here is what the spouses response with empathy may sound like…
Even though we have discussed this before, you still feel like I don’t help out enough around the house. This is probably frustrating and stressful for you. It sounds like you feel unappreciated as well.
See all those emotions words: Frustrating, stressful, unappreciated. These are our power players. The front line of empathy. We rarely use emotion words in our communication but, give it a try, notice it’s power. These words disarm the other from their anger, create connection, and allow the other person to let their guard down to eventually hear your perspective. You can find your own, more natural way of using these little empathy soldiers, but I encourage you to give it a try.
Stress balls. Fidgets spinners. Many products have boasted their benefits to relieve stress, decrease anxiety or improve focus, but you may just have something already in your home that can help, maybe even better…Play doh. If you have children you probably already have some of this colorful clay to occupy your child’s time. Here are some benefits to using Play doh as more than just a medium for children’s artistic creations….
Stress-relieving benefits include…
Releasing the tension resulting from stress and/or anxiety:
Manipulate the play doh, squish the play doh…whatever you wish. The tightening and releasing of the muscles in your hands helps release the tension you hold in your body when stressed.
Manipulating the play doh in your hands can serve as a non-destructive distraction from your worry or upsetting emotion. This certainly doesn’t make your troubles go away but we all like a break sometimes. By focusing on the play doh, its feel and smell, you can stop thinking about the source of your stress.
The brain stimulation that is created with the use of play doh can release endorphins that can improve mood. Some believe that this can also stimulate nerves in your hands that communicate with the limbic system of your brain, the part of the brain that deals with our emotions.
What is grounding? Grounding techniques are methods that help keep someone in the present. They help “ground” us in the here-and-now. Grounding can engage your senses in a healthy way to help manage, distract or dull the overwhelming feelings associated with
PTSD: Flashbacks or Dissociation
Urges to Self-Harm
Sense of comfort:
The activity of play doh manipulation may serve as a type of ritual for many people, which can have a comforting effect by offering predictability, familiarity, and structure during moments of stress and/or anxiety.
This may not work for all people but those that struggle with maintaining focus (such as those with ADHD), manipulating the play doh in your hands can actually increase alertness, help tune in to current task, and reduce the distraction of random thoughts.
Bonus: Play doh has a particular smell that we often associate with positive childhood memories which uses our sense of smell to further ground us and connect us to positive memories. Also, we can easily choose our favorite color or a color we personally associate with calm, positive emotion.
Are you struggling to find an in-network counselor?
You may have found it challenging to find an in-network therapist recently. Many therapists, myself included, have opted to not accept insurance. There are good reasons for this.