No time for empathy?
Nurses, caregivers, medics: how do you respond when you want to care for people yet experience shortage of time or energy? Parents teaching their children at home, how do you respond when your body says ” Please stop asking anything from me?” As a physician I know how I used to react most of the time. I tell myself “there is no time”, “there is no choice”, “I just have to go on”. So I hold on, giving care, support, anything asked for: until my inner source is dry. Obviously I was so caught up in this have-to-thinking that I was not taking time to be honest with myself and acknowledge my warning signs.
(Verbal) violence arises from destructive ‘shoulds’ and beliefs like “I have no choice”
Marshall Rosenberg taught me this. Thanks to him, I can now give myself empathy. When I tell myself I have no choice, it is my unreliable mind speaking. I feel such a frustration at such a moment that I can almost explode or implode. I feel such a deep frustration because I have such a deep longing for space, for example. When I breathe into that longing, just watching it and sensing it, something relaxes in me. Focusing on my longings releases the life energy in me.
Many people don’t know this, or don’t know how
When frustration with such a painful touch to it keeps rising, beliefs can rise as well. Believing in having “no choice” is a strong habit, an old self-protection, a powerful destructive core-conviction. It blinds us and reinforces itself: the frustration rises, the belief rises even more, the frustration rises again. Verbal violence in the air before you know it: criticism, blame, victimising. With such a dynamic there seems to be just one truth: I am not OK or you are not OK. When you both experience a dry source inside, empathy has run out. Boom.
The physician I used to be was too well a giver
I could easily empathize with anybody, too easily, especially at the start of the day. Anybody consulting me in the late afternoon would encounter a lot less patience and empathic presence. I was giving more to others than to myself, not enough aware of the late effects, or even more: not capable of preventing this. Because I was blocked by my belief system and I could not give myself empathy.
How to prevent (and deal with) a dry inner source
Acknowledge to be a human: all humans need space, rest and empathy. Why is it so difficult to create it or ask for it? Because of all our beliefs that got stronger and stronger over the years? My unreliable mind had quite a few beliefs that used to protect me when I was a child – they do not protect me anymore now! Is it really “weak” to feel powerless, it is “egoistic” to need space or rest, it is “bad” not to give love, empathy or appreciation? Or is it just your superego telling you this, just to prevent you to leave your cage? If you don’t take care for your own needs and you can’t receive empathy, because of these old beliefs, your inner source gets so dry that others suffer. Even if that’s the very last thing you wanted.
Empathy is magically resourceful
When I feel deep frustrated and someone just stands by my side for a while, just standing there, seeing me, seeing the life in me, I start to relax. The situation is the same, I feel different, just enough to experience some space again. I feel myself again: my strength, my needs, my ground, my boundaries, my heart. By the way, I can be that someone too, for myself. My hope for all people in this world is that they can learn to be that someone, for themselves. Empathy is life nourishment.
Don’t try to change anything, just stand still for a moment
There is so much magic and value in just acknowledging what you feel and what you’re longing for. You don’t have to feel anything differently. Your anger, disgust, fear, sadness, despair, powerlessness, it is all there for a reason. It is life calling for life. If you forget to breathe in so long that you don’t know how anymore, ask for empathy.
I wrote this article for my colleague NVC trainers Shona Cameron and Gina Lawrie, thankful for launching WEM: World wide empathy for Medics. If you read this and can find the courage to reach out, this is the time because people are offering free empathic listening. Refilling what you need because they love to give that to you. Empathy is such an important value that would make this world more beautiful and resilient. I remember Gina Lawrie saying this to me: "The more we connect with ourselves, the easier it becomes to connect with the other." Start with yourself, care for yourself.