“The struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
Real connection, real empathy is being able to share a deep level of understanding with another human being. It is not about telling them how bad you have had it in comparison or expressing in contrast how good things really are. It is about just holding space with that person while they work through their emotions and issues. It is maybe just giving them a hug and listening. It is reflecting to the other acknowledgement and value, it is an emotional lifeline
We have a tendency to want to “fix” things for the other person. When in reality only that person can fix or change anything in their immediate situation. We also have fear when someone shares a deep dark feeling, or expresses sadness. It makes us uncomfortable especially when we have difficulty with expressing our own emotions in a healthy way. We get fearful. Fearful of the same things or feelings happening to us, fearful that we don’t know how to cope or fix it. We then try to gloss over the feelings and avoid discussing or listening to their problems, worries, or dreams at all costs. These things and more stop us from making a real connection with others in our human frailty. Because connecting in this way requires us to be vulnerable. It is simply saying “me too.”
Being able to identify with another human is difficult at times, but I have never felt so alive as when this occurs. When we are able to let go of our ego and need to be safe and invulnerable, special little miracles happen. The miracles of love, healing, and spiritual connection. It reminds us all that we are not alone but interdependent.
So how do we connect and feel safe at the same time? We can connect best when we are connected to our inner self or we are self-aware.
How do we become self aware? Simply find time to get quiet, write a journal with observations of your daily life, things that impact you, things you are passionate about. These are your values. What is important to you? And of course it needs to be said this has little or nothing to do with your identities (wife, mother, daughter, son, lawyer, doctor). Some identities are thrust upon us, others we choose and may give us clues, but that is not your inner self. This journey of self-discovery usually takes a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some ideas right now about who we are.
Oh and what the heck does “holding space” for someone mean? Holding space doesn’t mean you have to be in close proximity. It simply means being there for someone without judging, criticizing, or trying to fix the situation. Waiting for that person to work through their difficult spot. It is simply being in a space of acceptance for them while trusting them to work through their issues and grow. We become the safe space, the anchor, the ever present love they need while healing. We are also called to be responsible and accountable for getting them the appropriate help if the situation is to big for us to handle. Learning to hold space isn’t about you, it is about the other person.
This all involves risk. Risk of possibly being hurt, risking of being real in front of others, and the risk of helping others without expectations.
“The purpose of life is not to simply be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
My goal is to live well. Staying centered with compassion and empathy can be tough – even when the compassion and empathy are for myself. It is as if I’m going round a merry-go-round with the centrifugal force trying to pull me off and throw me into the mud. Other days its a great ride even though I’m hanging on for dear life!