Empathy — When Something Good Is Done

When I am confused or worried, I want someone to listen without rushing or concluding or pronouncing. It irritates me when someone dismisses me with “look on the bright side,” or for those theologically persuaded, “God is doing something good.” I don’t want to be equally dismissive, so I look for the “giver’s” good intent and try to not take it deeply. What do you do?

Empathy is the ability to know and experience the consolations and desolations of another. It is a spiritual discipline, a social skill and a profound respect; it is a relationship and a friendship that matters deeply.

Empathy is not sympathy where the “giver” feels good about the giving. It is not solution focused, or panacea finding, or conversation concluding. Sympathy is a reactive protection from getting involved. It is limbic un-thoughtfulness.

I want you to watch a lovely 3 minute cartoon on what empathy is, what caring is. Brene Brown is the speaker with the words behind the drawings. To hear more of what she has to say, look at “The Power of Vulnerability.” Want to see even more? Check out her genius TED talk.

Appreciative Inquiry for Couples

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Appreciative Inquiry is a theory of change that is used in parenting, marriage as well as lots of businesses and organizations. Unlike theories of strategic planning that focus on correcting faults, Appreciative Inquiry looks towards what is best about what already exists.

It is important in marriage counselling where couples have forgotten how to give attention, affection and approval. And it is important in simple neighbourliness and parenting as well as in teaching.

Couples have found that they grow in their relationships more truthfully in a way that problem-correcting counselling does not permit. Venting hurts is most often a rehearsal for the next conflict or problem. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive rehearsal for positive change.

Here are some questions I typically ask my couple clients to help them focus on what is true, noble and right in their partnership.

1. How are you contributing to ingenious solutions in your marriage by being yourself? And what about your spouse?
2. How are you excellent for your spouse? (How is your spouse “good value” for you?)
3. What one valuable thing are you doing to protect and care for your family while still doing your life and work?
4. Can you describe together a positive practice that you consider important to add excellence in your marriage? (Note, you might not be doing this right now though you could in the future.)
5. What do you currently regard to be the most enduring and secure thing about your marriage?
6. Describe the skills you use to solve problems and resolve conflict within your partnership?
7. How is being “carnal” or “in flesh” important to you and your partner?
8. What are some key factors that keep you in sexually and emotionally faithful?
9. How is conflict essential to making a good marriage for you and your partner?
10. What do you imagine that you will say has been the best of your marriage 5 years from this month?
11. How does your spouse most love to be loved? How do you most love to be loved?
12. Assuming time and money are not current obstacles, what one great thing would you love to do again with your partner?

Note: this is not positive thinking as in ignoring life’s problems; it is upward focusing about the problems. It is solution focused rather than blame / responsibility focused.

Contentment: A Simmering (Guest Blog)

The following is a blog by a client-friend who is deeply grappling with what it means to be human in relationships and what it means to be faithful to herself. She is easy to admire as she has gone through losses and discovered meaning. I hope you enjoy her thoughts.

Being 27 is something I have always wanted.  It seemed like the perfect age to me because I obviously would be engaged to a very successful man, have a very successful career, and be at the peak of my climb in my own social ladder.  I would attend my 10 year reunion and everyone would be envious of me.  Isn’t it funny how life always seems to stick out its tongue at you and yell, “GOTCHA!”?

Earlier this year I experienced the most intense heart break, and I was not sure I was going to going to get through it, let alone ever recover.  Instead of living one day at a time, I was literally existing one second at a time.  Slowly the seconds turned to minutes, and the minutes to hours, and now I’ve found the hours have definitely turned to days.  But if you told me presently I would still be living one day at a time, relinquishing the last minute I had to keep my eyes open before I could retire to sleep, I would not have believed you.  Not me!  I thought I was far too smart and strong to ever live a 24 hour emotional day.  At times I find myself staring at my ceiling, picturing the heavens, and shouting silently, “When is my big break coming?”  It makes me so angry sometimes to think of how hard I have struggled, to get to this measly place in my life, that I often break down in tears just out of sheer frustration and emotional exhaustion.

In the past couple months, I have experienced a slow realization.  It has not been an epiphany, nor an “AHA!” moment, but a simmering feeling that either my outlook needed to change, or I would constantly be striving for the “something more”.  I currently have a job in finance, at one of the most successful new accessory companies in the world.  My boss is, for the most part, great, and my coworkers could be considered some of my closest friends.  I have a lot of responsibility at work, and although I do not get paid a lot right now, the experience I am gaining will be extremely valuable, should I ever decided to move on.  I have an amazing apartment in the heart of the city, and 2 absolutely lovely roommates who accompany it with me.  I even have a dog, who loves me so much, and gives me a reason to always get out of bed in the morning, even if I am having a dark day.  I have some of the best girlfriends in the city who have been there for me in my toughest times, and would never leave me.  My heart is healing slowly, and I am learning a lot about being datable.  I have enough money to keep me fed and go to the gym, which means I am healthy, and I can even contribute to my retirement savings plan!

While I don’t have the top of the line career, or a big ring on my finger symbolizing the amazing eternal love I’ve found, I do have a lot of things.  Once I started letting go of all the things I want to have, and focusing on what I do have, bits of light started floating into my life again.  I wouldn’t call the light happiness, but I would call it contentment.  I get a smirk on my face and peace sits on my heart when I think of all the things I do have.  This peace has led me to little things I need to work on in my life such as: being a better employee; not being so moody when things don’t go my way; trying to be less flakey and continue to commit to plans when I say I will; stop comparing every nice man in my life to my past relationship.  Contentment has led me to see the things in my life that are definitely attainable, and while a bigger salary will not make me a better person, this contentment will.

Feelings Are Meant to Be Felt

We are at my in-laws summer home in Pender Harbor. It is a beautiful place and it is a beautiful day. Christine (my daughter) is busy looking after our lives and Carole is helping out, as they chat happily. Brent (my son in law) is reading beside me and Jasper (my grandson) is wanting my attention. There are books spread out and games to trip over and a general feeling of urgency between him and me. I want to sit and do nothing and Jasper wants my playfulness, loud noises and funny faces.

At a particular point of exasperation with my non-involvement, Jasper hits my arm with all the strength he could muster, trying to get my attention I suppose, and I speak sharply to him. He’s not used to sharpness from me – he gets mostly big affirmations and funny voices and silly ways to walk. This is the kind of Papa that I want to be, not the sharp and defensive kind.

My scolding scared him and the urgency of the moment provoked a gasp of tears and a startled cry. He doesn’t want me to be close to him or touch him and he moves to the protection of his father’s arms while looking at me with strange horror. A few moments pass and his hurt falls away.

He stands in front of me looking sorrowful and I say to him, “Did I hurt your feelings Jasper?” “Yes Papa, you did.” I say, “I am very sorry for hurting your feelings Jasper.” And then everything changes as he says to me, “I’m not sad anymore Papa. I happy now. Are you happy Papa?”

I know that feelings are meant to be felt. But sometimes my hurt feelings stay with me too long. Jasper seems to have the capacity or the grace to let his hurt feelings go. Paul writes in Ephesians, “live as children of light for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth and find out what pleases the Lord” [Ephesians 5:8 – 10]. Seems like good advice to me.