I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy recently – I reckon it’s crucial for the therapeutic relationship and for engaging with troubled kids generally.

What empathy isn’t…

Get the audio version of this post on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here…

In our quest to discover empathy, maybe we should start with what it’s not.

It’s not sympathy.

Sympathy has to do with noticing and acknowledging that someone else is struggling or having a hard time of it. Empathy is more than that.

Sympathy gets that something is wrong and that you are suffering and vulnerable, but it somehow remains distant, disconnected. Empathy is close and connected – as if the person is in it with you.

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This little animation, narrated by Dr Brene Brown, sums up the difference beautifully!

So, empathy…

– is NOT just about noticing and acknowledging

– is NOT disconnected or distant

– is NOT about minimising (‘Mm, at least…’)

“No one reaches out to you for compassion or empathy so you can teach them how to behave better. They reach out to us because they believe in our capacity to know our darkness well enough to sit in the dark with them.”
– Dr. Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability (this is a great read/listen!)

Application

In the rush of our work, it’s easy to slip into habits that speed things up and keep everything moving.

Things like acknowledging what’s going on for a child or young person, but doing so quickly and superficially. The ‘message’ this gives is that we haven’t really heard what they’ve said – not really heard it.

The child has reached out and told us something. But even though we’ve received the information and acknowledged it, they remain alone in the problem. We’ve missed a chance to join them and share the difficulty for a moment.

It’s not about fixing the problem. It’s about sharing it.

Final word

Next time we encounter someone facing a challenge or suffering in some way-a frequent occurrence in our line of work-let’s think about how we can avoid the ‘At least…‘ and climb down into the hole for a while.

After all, a problem shared…

Get the audio version of this post on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here…

What do you think?…

– What do you think about all this? Do you have anything to add about empathy or sympathy?

– Please let me know your thoughts… Leave a comment below.

Related previous posts:

– How to teach empathy to troubled teens – part 1…

How to teach empathy to troubled teens – part 2…

– Child first, offender second…

– Empathy 2 – What Exactly Is It?…

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© Jonny Matthew 2018