Empathy is the living and breathing heart of everything that I do. It’s the core of how I parent; it’s the essence I show up with, in my marriage; it’s the foundation from which I build myself. It’s also the root of all the work that I do with parents worldwide.
Empathy and Us
Our world is not used to empathy; some say it even rejects it. After so many years of patriarchy, right and wrong, good or bad, putting judgment aside and opening our heart to the experience of another, might even be scary. I get it. We’re used to our knee-jerk reactions of anger, blaming, and shaming.
Many of us don’t know what to do instead. And so many of us want to know; because we see that anger breeds more anger, that blaming and shaming don’t make people (and children) do better. That all these strategies make life worse. We want to live a better life. We want to help our children do better, and we want to do it by making them feel better about themselves. This is the essence of empathy.
Why Should We Embrace Empathy as a Way of Life?
Connection is an existential human need. When we are well connected to the people around us, to our families, we live a sense of trust and security, but also freedom and acceptance. Empathy allows us to connect where judgment tears us apart. Empathy allows us to bring life and meaning into every conversation and find a way to cooperate from the heart.
Through empathy, we can say goodbye to fights and power struggles, feelings of loneliness, anger, frustration, anxiety, impatience, agitation, and others.
How To Embrace Empathy?
During an open Zoom session I’ve had with my Facebook group members, one of the participants asked me for specific guideposts to allow empathy in, to open our heart with courage to the experiences of our loved ones. It took me a few days, and the following list is what I’ve come up with. Specific, actionable steps to live a life of empathy and compassion, and I’m happy to share them with you.
The 10 Essential Steps to Embracing Empathy as a Way of Life
Step 1: Assume the Positive Intention
Our angry and frustrated reactions stem from our thoughts, the judgments we have towards different, undesired behaviors. If we dare to change the stories that we tell ourselves, and assume the positive intent behind the behavior, we’ll shift from anger to connection.
Our expectations of our children have a lot to do with who our children are. When we expect them to “be bad”, they will be. If we assume they are “good”, they will be. More about this here.
Step 2: Accept that the Behavior is the Last Link of the Human Experience
The behavior, what we see, is the last link in the human experience. Before it, there is always a need, followed by a feeling. When needs are met, pleasant feelings arise, and the behavior we see is favorable. When needs are not met, unpleasant feelings arise, and the behavior that we see is less favorable.
Step 3: Accept All Feelings and How they Show Up
We’re afraid of feelings. We believe that unpleasant emotions are “bad,” and honestly – we just don’t know what to do with them. So we push them aside, we send them to their rooms, we block them away. Doing this, we teach our children what we were taught, that their life experience doesn’t matter as long as it frustrates us. We don’t teach coping strategies or how to deal with emotions. By accepting feelings, by looking them straight in the eyes, by loving them, we teach our children that even if we don’t know how to deal with our feelings, we’re brave enough to help them deal with theirs.
Step 4: Accept that No Cry is for No Reason
In our world, if the child is not hungry or tired, everything should be just fine. In this world, physical needs seem to be the only acceptable needs. But the truth is that our emotional needs are what we live by. No one cries for no reason. Children don’t, either.
Step 5: Put Your Agenda Aside
When faced with unpleasant behaviors (=unmet needs, unpleasant emotions), our agenda is to, usually, make it stop. When we try to make it stop, we often make things worse. Repeat steps 1-4.
Step 6: Choose Curiosity Over Judgment
Judgment is a choice, but so is curiosity. If you took all the previous steps, you would no longer judge the behavior. You will dare to look within it, find the unmet need, and address it with love and compassion. More about observation without evaluation here.
Step 7: Dare to Ask
Ask questions, try to guess what’s going on. Even if you didn’t get it right, your attempt is seen and visible and will help your child feel seen and heard. When working with empathy, mistakes don’t exist. Dig deep into the human experience before you, until it is super clear to you.
Step 8: Communicate Your Needs and Feelings
Instead of communicating judgments. Use “I statements”; sentences that start with “I” are not sentences that begin with a “you.” These will express your needs and feelings instead of blame and shame.
Step 9: Meet Your Children where they are At
We take our children’s words personally. We believe they work against us, to harm us, or “punish” us. But if we meet them where they are at, with courage, full acceptance of who they are and what they bring, and with compassion to whatever they are communicating. Every word we say is an attempt to have our needs met. It is never about anyone else. It’s always about them.
Step 10: Love Them at All Times
This step will happen on its own if you’ve taken steps 1-9 fully. And it will change your life, your parenting, and parenthood entirely.
The 10 essential steps to embrace empathy as a way of life are only the beginning. If you are ready for a real transformation, join my Island of Peace, the membership group where I teach Mindfulness through NVC in weekly lessons, offer group coaching sessions, and support members 24/7 on their path to peace of mind.
Would love to meet you and show you the wonders of empathy 🙂