Empathy or Sympathy; Do You Give What’s Needed?
This should be shown to children – or maybe children don’t need to be taught how to be empathetic. We have all heard the story of the child who goes every day to visit the neighbor who had lost his wife. When the child’s mother asked what he is doing over there the child responds that he is sitting and being sad with him.
But it seems that even if we had this wisdom as children we soon outgrew it – what a terrible irony! We unlearn the wisdom of the child because now we believe we know what to say and, unfortunately, often in our “make them feel better” vocabulary is the “At least…”
When I had a miscarriage between my first and second child, I heard the “At leasts.” When Alex died I did not hear them, but – worse, I said them to myself: at least we knew him for twenty-three years, at least he did not suffer, at least we had celebrated his university graduation with him just three months before. Saying these things to myself helped me to survive another minute, another hour; I would not have wanted to hear them from anyone else.
From my perspective on this side of unthinkable loss, I know that Brené Brown is absolutely correct when she says there is nothing you can say to “make it better”. All you can do is “feel with” the person who is in suffering. Sometimes all we need is a witness to our pain.
Are you able to “feel-with” someone who is in pain? How did you cultivate this ability?