Everyone gets angry or sometimes has anger lingering in them. For a young person it may be having a toy taken away from them by another child. It may be not getting their way or what they want at that very moment. As we get older though we may be angered because of being lied too or we may be frustrated, feeling guilty or it may be due to a fear that we have.
I will tell you my own example. My father died when I was 13 years old. I did not even realize it – but it made me angry that he had left me alone at that time. That feeling followed me for a very long time and it was not till I was close to 30 years old that I realized that my anger about that unfortunate circumstance was having an affect on other parts of my life.
How we feel anger can be different too. It may be that we frown, clench our teeth, wrinkle our brow, feel it in our stomach, head or throat. Some may react by clinching their fist, crossing their arms, stomping their feet or screaming mean words. Others may just become very quiet and internalize their feelings. So as we begin to discuss anger management we recognize that it is about how we handle anger in a safe, fair and positive way. Of course it is OK to be angry, but its not OK to just someone with our words or physically because we are angry.
Beyond listening and being sure that what we heard is what the other person meant by paraphrasing, the next step in empathy is to show concern. Showing or expressing our concern is a very visible way of showing that we care about the other person and their feelings.
We can do this by expressing our concern with words and offering to take action if they would like us to do so. We may say to a person who is sick – “I am sorry that you do not feel well. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?” Our children can learn about expressing concern by practicing this and role playing it with their parents.
For instance we may ask them what could you say if one of your schoolmates was being bullied at school? When I asked this at our school many of the kids wanted to fix the problem with some sort of solution. “just ignore it” “walk away” were common responses. But for the other person to know that we care we may want to say, “ I am sorry those boys were picking on you. Would you like to play with me? or Would you like to hang out with me and my friends. Maybe they will leave you alone then? Or Would you like to speak to a teacher about what happened.
As we go into this year lets all of us see if we can express empathy for others. Doing so will contribute to the peace of ourselves, family, community and the world.
It is one thing to feel compassion for another person or situation and quite another to be demonstrate empathy. I think we all can agree that we like to be listened to when we are speaking and even more important to be heard. Most of the time we are not looking for someone to solve the problem for us – we want to know that someone understands and more important that they care.
One way of being sure that the other person knows that we heard and understood what they were saying is to repeat back to them what we heard them say, using slightly different words, paraphrasing. When we do this we are sure then that what we understood them to say and what they meant to convey were the same. For instance if we ask our child to clean their room for this weekend we may have in mind that it be completed prior to other activities on the weekend. But the child may have only heard the time frame “weekend” and may feel that as long as it is done by Sunday night that that fills the requirement. However if they had paraphrased back to us “So you would like me to have my room cleaned by Sunday on this weekend”, immediately we would know that there was a misunderstanding and could correct the situation before there was conflict.
The same is true for understanding the feelings of others. We may state back to a person, “So you are upset when …..” Being able to paraphrase effectively helps us to listen more closely and confirms that we understand each other which allows us to be more empathetic.
One of the hardest things for all of us is communicating our feelings without blaming the other party for “making” us feel a certain way. Yet this is one of the most important parts of empathy. As someone trying to practice empathy we are not just going to let others walk all over us. We should not give up our own power and feelings just to make someone else feel good. That is not a win – win.
Finding a respectful way of expressing our feelings is key to maintaining this balance. One way of achieving this is to use “I” messages. Now we have all heard this before but putting this into practice whether as an adult or a child is difficult without taking our time to respond.
One suggestion that is key to expressing ourselves respectfully is to take 3 breaths prior to speaking. Consider quickly how the other person is feeling or what the situation is that created the feelings of the other person. Once we have done that the message we deliver should be on the lines of “I feel hurt when you speak to me in that manner.”
Now having the correct feeling in our mind may be the hard part and we may need to take note of what we are really feeling and why. So as we teach our children how to use “I feel statements’, we need to teach them feeling words. This will give them the vocabulary to use and not just use one or two feelings for everything. They should learn words like angry, frustrated, disappointed, happy, proud, left out, hurt, and how to use them.
Finally as parents we want to model this when we are talking about other adults, situations at work and especially when we are disciplining our children. These are teaching moments. Remember, our children learn more about how to handle things from what we do that from what we tell them to do.
While it is important to figure out by looking at someone or a situation what someone is feeling, it is just as important to predict how someone may feel if you speak or if you act in a certain way. When we are able to predict how someone may feel given a set of circumstances, we can gauge how and what we may say or do.
This is an important social skill that we can teach our children by playing a game with them or by just simple conversation. We may ask them, “Lauren just moved and will be going to a new school tomorrow. How do you think she will feel?” We can make up other scenarios that may be applicable to our own children that would be good for them to consider the feelings of others.
When we take children out of the scenario, their own emotions about the situation do not get involved and they can express clearly what may happen. When the time is appropriate you can compare it to a situation that they are in and it will be easier for them to understand how they may respond with more empathy.
When we are in the middle of a situation, especially if there are emotions involved, it can be very difficult to be empathetic. Practicing predicting the feelings of others can be helpful for all of us, child or adult.
Have you ever noticed how many times people are so focused on their own needs, wants and feelings that there is very little time or effort spent on how others might be feeling. Last month we talked about being open-minded and accepting the differences of each other, and what better way of doing this than to be aware of the needs of others as we make decisions. To do so effectively we must understand the feelings of other persons.
Some have put it this way, “We must climb inside the other person”, “Walk in their shoes”, to really be able to respond to situations in a way that is empathetic. The very first step in this process is to be able to read and understand people’s feelings. This calls for taking the time to listen and observe body language, gestures, tone of voice and other observations to help us understanding the other person.
The step of listening is so important in this observing. Not just hearing but ‘deep listening’ , observing where they are coming from and why they be taking the stand that they are taking. Of course asking good questions and listening closely to the answer without pre-judging or thinking we know the answer is the first key step in being motivated to respond to the needs of others.
How good are you at understanding? If you were to rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 where would you be at this point, and more important – what could you do that would increase the score? This month lets consider this together and see if we can raise our awareness in ourselves and in those around us.