Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why self empathy? Isn't non violence about being aware of and serving others?

If you walked a day in my shoes you would meet people who want to be of service and contribute to the well being of their fellow humans but are bitter, angry, exhausted and burnt out. AKA they aren't really able to be of service to anyone in the end.

In my last post we briefly touched on the different positions of power and I want to expand on that idea now. What I see when people describe themselves as givers is that they mostly assume a power over stance. They feel obligated to give, won't care for themselves and hope that giving will result in others caring for them. the switch to a power with mode of functioning is a wonderfully rewarding experience because not only can we continue to contribute but we can learn to do so in a way that fills us with energy rather than draining us of vitality.

It starts by realizing that you cannot directly know another persons reality. The only way to access life is trough direct experience of your own.

Being connected with life is the first step in knowing how to help another. This happens through a deep awareness of yourself and what your needs are.

Then knowing in your core that you do not know what the other is experiencing even if you think you do, and being humble and curious enough to "offer" the other your presence.

The first step is crucial because of a curious experience that you may not believe until you have experienced it yourself. In my training I have often seen experienced NVC practionners take on the role of a complete stranger and the person who they are dialoguing with will say "How did you know that my 'brother, sister, mother, father, friend' tells me the same thing you are telling me all the time" They can do this because these practionners have done the work required to connect with their own life. They know what they feel and what their needs are and because all humans share needs, they can make educated guesses about what a complete stranger they know next to nothing about MIGHT feel or need based on one fact and this one fact alone: They share a common bond of humanity.

I have experienced this many times. Monitoring what comes up for me helps me to better GUESS what is alive in the other person. Being able to recognize the life in another is a priceless gift and often the only "help" they need. Read any book that promotes empathy and you will hear stories of the way it helps people feel better and then allowing them to solve their own challenges without any more help from you.

This is why self-empathy is not a luxury nor selfish. Taking the time to connect and know your own life energy is a way you can come close to guessing what the other is experiencing. It is an essential step in learning how to offer the healing power of empathy to the other.

I work as a social worker and do not underestimate the role of direct and concrete assistance. However if people don't feel you "get them" they won't accept or use the assistance you can give. More than one well meaning person has strategies they wish people in need would accept but are frustrated that the person who needs help refuses their well meant advice. I get calls from people who could use concrete advice but who don't feel the person offering and mandated to offer the advice "get's them" Facing such a situation I checked in with myself and felt how very difficult I would find it to be in their shoes, in me I felt grief come up. I asked the family " What about this situation is the most difficult for you, I sense perhaps some sadness?"  Sure enough grief, the unfairness, the suddeness, the overwhelming nature of the situation all came pouring out. Once we had connected around these feelings the family was better able to make decisions based on the information they were being given.    

Notice I checked in with myself. That is the starting point. If I want to help anyone I absolutely think that the cultivation of self empathy is essential. It allows me to be aware of myself and to guess what others might need based on that knowledge. It also allows me to be aware of when I am too involved or triggered by a situation to be of use to the other person.

The second reason self empathy is not a luxury, nor selfish is because a deep knowledge and commitment to caring for yourself naturally increases your energy. Since human beings have many needs that drive them to give to to others including the needs for significance, connection, contribution, friendship, belonging and more taking care of our needs will naturally lead to a life where we contribute to others.

One of my favorite exercises that I see in nvc trainings is to reflect on the difference we feel when we give from a genuine desire and drive to be of service and a situation where we think we have to give for moral reasons or because of some other force. Learning to give from "the heart" feels better and does not leave you feeling bitter, angry, exhausted and burnt out. The core of this way of giving is to adopt a "power with" approach and self empathy along with curiosity and non-judgmental presence is absolutely essential in adopting this way of relating to people.

People often want someone to "just be there for them". Practice being there for yourself and you will undoubtedly find it leads to being able to better"be there" for others.

Pierre has recently been kidnapped and replaced by some stranger who wants to do laundry, dishes and other household tasks.  I enjoy a clean house and want to feel the happiness a well ordered start to the week can bring so I guess this is goodbye for now.

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