As I sat with Empathy, I realized that the foundation of that conversation is our relationship to our emotions.
Some of us (myself included) come from families and work in environments where Spock is a role model. Emotions are an inconvenience (at best). “Happy” is acceptable. The rest of it – not so much.
- “Calm down.”
- “Stop crying, it’s not that bad.”
- “What do you have to be angry about?”
- “You’re not going to get anywhere unless you control your emotions.”
- Insert your favorite phrase here.
Others come from families and environments where emotions are expressed in harmful ways. Or…emotions are only allowed from certain people (i.e. only the “CEO” is allowed to be angry).
As a result, many of us are already handicapped when it comes to understanding our OWN emotions; nevermind having empathy for others.
Now, let’s add the ways in which others manipulate our emotions. Marketing, sales, training, management (among other fields) all have within these disciplines tips and techniques for manipulating
We’re not sure what we’re feeling in the first place and others are trying to get us to feel a certain way for their OWN purposes.
What a mess.
Emotional intelligence and empathy need to start at home (i.e., with me).
Can I recognize what I am feeling; nevermind what anyone else is feeling?
Do I know what is “mine” and what I’ve absorbed from others?
I know I have a lot of work to do in this area.
- Learning to be OK in feeling ALL emotions – not just the limited range of socially acceptable ones.
- Getting clear on what emotions I am feeling and why. Engaging only once I am clear and not to necessarily help someone else “feel better” or fix whatever seems to be a “problem,” but just to hold space.
- Learning to recognize when someone is trying to shift responsibility for their feelings onto me. Feel your own feelings. I have enough of my own, thanks.
- Learning to recognize when someone is trying to make me have particular emotions to serve their agenda. I find going through my social media feeds a great exercise for this – but only when I am in the right head / heart space for it.
I find this uncomfortable work. I still have (many) moments where I doubt the whole “feeling your emotions is good” advice.
I know that if I don’t learn how to acknowledge and address ALL of my emotions, that they eventually come out when I least expect them and in ways that are most harmful to myself and/or others. I’ve figured this out the hard way.
We have a very long way to go in the conversation around emotions and emotional health, nevermind empathy.
I know the best I can do right now is get clear on how I am feeling, listen as deeply as possible, and do my best to hold space without taking on others’ stuff. Getting better at those things may take a lifetime.