Dr Teresa Wiseman breaks down empathy into 4 parts: we have to:

1. See the world as others see it

2. Be non-judgmental

3. Understand another’s feelings, and

4. Communicate that understanding*

Our last four posts about empathy have looked at what it isn’t, a summary of what it is, the importance of being non-judgmental and trying the see the world through the child’s eyes.

Understanding another’s feelings…

Today we’re looking at this idea of ‘Understanding another’s feelings’

This is a very tricky issue to try and lay out in words – particularly the words of someone (me) who has never been a victim of some of the horrors many of the kids we work with have.

But I think this is, perhaps, the nub of the issue. That we don’t know. And, in a very real way, we can’t know. Maybe our efforts to help should start with an acknowledgement of this?

But I do think the onus is on us to try – to work at getting at least a sense of the turmoil, confusion, pain, hopelessness and emptiness that survivors of abuse and trauma during childhood experience (even this sentence sounds terribly inadequate to me, but I’m trying!).

I think this admission of inadequacy is crucial to the process of us (non-survivors) beginning to realise the devastation felt by the kids we work with (survivors).

A flattening of the power differences and the acknowledgement of their expertise on this subject, is surely an essential pre-requisite to gaining greater insight into how such children feel?

A very great help to me on this subject has been the work of Suzzan Blac…

Suzzan Blac…

Suzzan is a survivor (read her story here).

She is also an artist of the most astonishing talent. She paints her pain and, I believe, gives the rest of us a unique insight into the travails of being a child victim of abusive adults.

I have tried, on innumerable occasions to write something of what the child victim of abuse goes through and it’s impact. But am never satisfied with my efforts. Perhaps because I am not a victim?

But Suzzan knows exactly. And her paintings articulate it all beautifully. And horrifically. Here are a couple from her collection, ‘The Things That People Don’t Like To Talk About,’ to give you a flavour…

‘The Trusted Uncle’ ©Suzzan Blac

‘Shut Up & Take It’ ©Suzzan Blac

‘Our Special Secret’ ©Suzzan Blac









(Read more about Suzzan’s art and her work with professionals on her website – here: Triumph Over Tragedy’.)

Powerful images aren’t they? And horrible. Horrible because they portray horror. The real horrors that children endure at the hands of those who abuse them.


Suzzan Blac presents regularly to professionals, telling her story and urging others on to do more to help victims of abuse.

I think one of the greatest favours we can do those kids we work with, is to tap into resources like this – to put more money and effort into understanding more fully what they’ve been through.

This in turn will both inform and energise us to do the best job we can to rescue those still stuck in awfulness and promote the recovery of those who’ve found a way out.

Final word

We cannot fully know what these kids went through. But we can strive to understand better. Suzzan’s powerful, authentic and moving work helps with that, because it shows the horror.

If it shocks, it is because we have hitherto not understood – or we’ve forgotten (we ALL do!). But now we do understand – just a little bit more. And that will help us be more empathic and thus more effective helpers.

Previous related posts

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

How to teach empathy to troubled teens – part 2…

– Empathy 1 – What It Isn’t… (get the audio version of this post as part of the ‘Total Blog’ package on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 2 – What exactly is it?…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 3 – A child’s-eye view…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 4 – Being non-judgmental…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 6 – Communicate Our Understanding… (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)


*Wiseman, T. (1996) A Concept Analysis of Empathy. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 1996,23,1162-1167 – download.

Gordon, M. (2009) Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, The Experiment, New York – p.31 – learn more here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2018

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