EXERCISE: EMPATHY “YOU & ME”

DEFINING EMPATHY

Daniel Goleman translated Paul Ekman’s work, or at least explained Ekman’s work, and said, look, there are three levels of empathy.

1. THERE’S COGNITIVE EMPATHY

That’s when your mind and mind someone else’s mind connect. That’s when you understand what that other person is thinking. And that’s often when, I think, most people start in terms of understanding empathy, which is like, “Oh, I get what you’re going on about”. There’s more to it than that, of course.

2. THEN THERE’S BODY-TO-BODY EMPATHY, EMOTIONAL EMPATHY

That’s when you’re like, “Oh, I can feel what you’re feeling. I get that sense of what you’re going through and I can feel it in my own body as well”. So, you get that kind of emotional and somatic understanding of that other person.

3. AND THEN THE THIRD TYPE OF EMPATHY IS COMPASSIONATE EMPATHY

The kind of heart-to-heart connection where you see a person as the full human being they are.

You understand the fuller capacity of who they are and the life that they are living. And when you understand how these three things work together, mind to mind, body to body, heart to heart, then I think you’re getting close to a complete understanding of what it means to be genuinely empathetic with somebody.

SO HOW DO YOU BECOME MORE EMPATHETIC?

That’s the piece I want to wrestle with because it’s all well and good to intellectually understand what empathy is but if you don’t act on it, if you don’t become more empathetic, well, what’s the point? So, I’ve been thinking hard about how you build your empathy muscle.

How do you move from good intentions to saying, “Yeah, I’d like to be more empathetic,” to saying, “I’ve got better and better at being more empathetic”?

And I want to share with you a tool that I feel has helped me a lot in my journey to step forward and go, “look, I’m trying to connect in a more human way with the people around me, to see them more completely for who they are.”

 

This tool comes from Deborah Ford’s book: The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, based on Jungian psychology.

It gave me several different tools that have been useful for me. And the tool I want to take you through here is a way of connecting to somebody, but in a way that might surprise you.

I want to tell you a story.

Some years ago, I worked in a different organisation, and I had a boss and my boss’s boss; I was working with somebody, and he was my boss, and he was terrible. I mean, just awful. He was just this controlling, angry, money-hungry, ambitious, ruthless, selfish man, and he drove me crazy. It was a miserable couple of years working and reporting to him.

But here’s the insult to injury.

When I left that job, for years afterwards, every time I would think of this person, I would get really angry again. He’d come into my head for some reason, and I’d have all these imagined dialogues with him; I finally put him down, showed him who’s boss, and one-upped him in some sort of conversation. I could feel myself getting wound tighter and tighter and tighter as I thought of this person.

Then there was the twist.

What Debbie Ford would say you need to do after you’ve written down your list of that other person who drives you crazy is: you then flip it, and you own it yourself. Because drawing on Jungian psychology, Debbie Ford would say, or Jung would say, “The thing that triggers you in another person is the piece about yourself that you have yet to own”. The thing that triggers you about that other person is a thing in yourself that you have yet to own. And Jung once said, “I’d rather be whole than be good”. And this process, in some ways, is a healing piece for you to own the darker aspects of yourself, to become more complete and at the exact moment become more empathetic to that other person.

So, I had this exercise.

I’d written out all these things about this dude who was driving me nuts, and then I owned them myself. I said, “I am money hungry. I am greedy. I am controlling. I am Napoleonic. I am …” – like I said, it was a long list. And doing this was traumatic and freeing at the same time. I still remember the moment I first did that, and I felt like I was throwing up in my mouth. It was quite an intense experience. But it also reminded me of that phrase “and with one bound he was free”.

For me, the power of this experience is that you start owning some of these darker sides to who you might be. And, weirdly, in owning it, you free yourself from being driven by it. Because I can say, “Look, I am greedy. I am Napoleonic; I am ambitious, I am controlling and so on”. I’m better able to see that in myself and manage it rather than suppressing it, hiding it, and hoping that it never shows up.

 

THIS IS A POWERFUL EXERCISE.

If you want to take this on, this is how you do it.

Make sure that you are in a safe, comfortable spot. You want to do this where you feel secure and supported.

You have the stuff around you that makes you feel safe and comfortable. So set yourself up there.

Then pick somebody. Pick somebody who is triggering you now.

It might be somebody in your close circle, a spouse, a child, a boss, or a colleague.
It might be somebody in the broader world.

Step 1 – Left Column

Write, and don’t hold back; write down everything about that other person driving you nuts.

“They are …” and go for it. Just let it loose. Be true.
Ensure all these things are real, but don’t stop the list.

Step 2 – Right Column

Then flip it: write “I am… I am… I am…”

I would write down a complete sentence every time.
I am greedy. I am vicious. I am self-obsessed. I am afraid. I am cowardly.

Whatever it might be for you.

 

And then, if you want to feel this, say it out loud.

It’s hard. It is hard, so you want to be in that safe spot. I found that you start owning that fullness of who you are.

 

If you want a Jung quote, here it is: “The gold is in the dark”. The gold is in the dark.

I wanted to give you the theory behind empathy: the Goleman/Ekman model.
I wanted to give you a practical tool.