My therapist recently presented an idea that was very difficult for me to understand: having empathy for yourself. I'm still not sure I get it. It's definitely a concept I've never encountered before. As she described it, empathy for yourself requires you to not be critical of yourself. I think I haven't heard of this idea because it's so contrary to the general culture we have in the US, and then greatly amplified in the LDS culture where I was taught that I need to be constantly making sure I'm thinking and acting "righteously."
I'm still not sure I really understand how to have empathy for myself. So I thought it would be good to understand empathy in general, and then try to apply its aspects to myself. I like the work of Brené Brown and how she defines aspects like empathy:
- "Perspective taking: the ability to take the perspective of [a] person, or recognize their perspective as their truth"
- "Staying out of judgement"
- "Recognizing emotion in ... people" and
- Communicating the recognition of emotion in the person
Staying Out of Judgement
Judgment is one of those concepts that is widely used. I've always struggled with it a bit as it's also one of those words that's never really well defined. (I have a number of other words and concept that seem to have the same problem.) So, what is judgment, really? I must say I'm still refining this concept down for myself. What I have so far, and what I think it mostly means for empathy, is the idea of not making decisions about ethical values, whether something is right or wrong, worthy of reward or punishment. This is a concept that runs contrary to general human nature, and even more so against cultures that teach one should be constantly vigilant against "evil" thoughts and deeds (e.g., what I heard from my LDS upbringing). It's very difficult to do, but as I've been learning about the concept of radical acceptance it is vital to good psychological health to be able to at least suspend value judgments and accept that something is. Empathy requires a grounding in reality. Jumping to judgement is an attempt to alter reality; change the past, present, or deterministic future. (Despite what some "Secret" certain people may claim to know, the universe doesn't shift reality to our wishes.)
Recognizing Emotion, and Communicating That Recognition