Empathy is about understanding and entering another person’s feelings while compassion is about actually feeling someone else’s pain and desiring to relieve them of that pain.
Surprisingly, to express compassion and empathy to others, you must first begin with yourself. You must first become aware of your feelings as well as accept that we are all humans, we are imperfect and we all make mistakes. We must accept that it is okay to experience moments of self-doubt, fear, insecurity and disappointment. We must also accept that we will, at times, make the wrong decision, the wrong choice.
Often the greatest challenges for most people, particularly men, is the simple skill of feeling one’s own pain, of being aware of one’s deepest feelings. In other words, for us to be compassionate to others, we must be able to also be honest with ourselves about our own pain; we must be willing to admit that pain to ourselves, and for most men, that is a hard thing to do.
Why is this point significant and timely?
The economic crisis is affecting people in many different ways and on many different levels. The resulting physical, mental and emotional stress is one explanation of the recent spates of violence, mass murder and suicide.
For we men, it is very hard to admit to others and thus, ultimately to ourselves the pain that we experience. That pain can take many forms – hopelessness, failure, fear, helplessness, self-doubt, anger, jealousy and resentment. Sometimes it is hard for us to admit that pain because we tend to be so rational and intellectual (stuck in our heads) that we are simply not even aware of what we are actually feeling.
I would like to use a personal example to illustrate this point.
On one occasion, I had met a lady with whom I had a powerful connection with similar interests and values and a great sense of humor. Very soon into the friendship, I found myself criticizing and judging her; complaining about what she wasn’t doing, finding fault with her and even accusing her of lacking compassion. We wasted quite a bit of time arguing and of course, intellectually, I was able to justify every one of my points.
Being stuck in my ego, to prove to myself that I was right and justified in my position, I walked away thinking to myself how screwed up she is and blaming her.
A few days passed and then I had a sudden awakening and revelation.
I had been using criticism and judgment as a wall around me to protect myself from feeling my own pain – the pain of the hurt from past relationships. I was transferring my pain from a past relationship onto her. Above all, it was a successful strategy of pushing her away so that I would be safe, not have to become vulnerable or admit what I was truly feeling – in this case – failure, betrayal, rejection and a lack of love from a past partner.
Ultimately, what I was afraid of was to open up and with sincerity, vulnerability and humility admit that I was in pain, hurt from the past, angry at myself for poor choices and poor judgment.
Yes, I was afraid of my own pain.
Many of us seek out ways to avoid facing our own pain, ways to numb or escape the pain from both the past and present – often things that occur in everyday life. The subconscious attempt to escape pain is one of the primary causes of addiction, stress, illness and even weight gain.
Denial, though, is never freeing.
Denial always leads to other painful consequences such as addiction (and its subsequent price), self-sabotage, shutting down emotionally and blocking out friends, family and love.
I felt great relief and release when I called my friend to apologize for hurting and criticizing her and when I was able to admit to her (and myself) that I was transferring onto her my pain and that my actions were my attempt to create a wall to push her away.
To release the chains that bind you, one must begin by exploring and facing the pain that exists beneath the surface. I suggest writing down what you feel. Begin with and complete the sentence “I am angry at/with/because.” Anger is usually the initial response to being hurt or injured – physically or emotionally. Next, go deeper, and ask yourself “What else do I feel?”
If you are still having a challenge with the above, then I suggest you complete the following sentences:
I feel afraid of…
I feel guilty because…
I feel sad because…
I feel ashamed because…
I feel regret because…
The act of admitting to yourself what you feel is often a big step forward to releasing you of those feelings versus being stuck in resistance, denial and escape.