Archive for the ‘Empathy’ Category

The Ugly Side of My Spiritual Gift

Have you ever taken a spiritual gift inventory?

Very often they can be a helpful tool in pinpointing exactly how God has specifically designed you for His purposes.

Moses being inspired about a new blog post?

On many spiritual gift inventories, I’ve scored high on the gift of “prophecy.” That doesn’t specifically mean that I have the urge to go around preaching damnation to every hooker on the corners of all busy inner-city streets! But it certainly means that I’m drawn to “the truth” of God’s Word and want to share that “truth” in many ways with others—hence, my blogging takes on a whole new meaning.

But along with every “gift” or “talent” that God gives us, there’s this other-side of that same coin, that can be negative, even hurtful.

And the negative, hurtful side of being a truth-teller is an inability to have compassion or extend grace.

I’m not saying that I can’t have both in my life at the same time, but it is often a difficult balance for me to strike. I have to really lean into God, asking for His grace, when I am feeling a conviction rising up within me (especially when that conviction involves perceptions about other’s wrong-doing!).

God has been showing me this area of weakness for a lot of years. And although I think I’ve softened somewhat over the years, I still tend to err to the side of cold, hard truth. There isn’t anything that can get my blood boiling more than when a lie is being believed/propagated or when an injustice is being committed.

But when it comes to having compassion for those who make those same mistakes, I often fall short.

One way that I’m trying to work on this weakness in my life is by biting my tongue. I’ve realized that I’m not the only person in the world who can recognize God’s truth. I’ve realized that God often uses my love and compassion to influence others toward change more than my harsh words of challenge. I’ve realized that God is a lot more active than I give Him credit for. It’s not just up to me to set the wayward straight. The Holy Spirit’s got that gig down already.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I should never confront someone.

But I think I tend to feel that God cannot reveal a sin to someone without my help!

How arrogant is that?!

Which leads me to my next way of dealing with this weakness—I release the person/situation through prayer to God. I pray that God would convict, provide, direct, whatever for that person and trust God to do just that.

If I’m still in doubt about whether I should say something, I pray that God would strongly urge me to take a specific step perhaps of confronting. But then I always need to “speak the truth in love.” It’s a delicate balance that I hope to have figured out by the time I’m 90 or so!

So, what spiritual gift has God given you that sometimes trips you up?

And, how do you positively deal with that hurtful side when it emerges?

Today’s post is linked to Faith Barista and answers the question – What has God been saying to me in my time alone with Him?


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How to Encourage through Validation

You want to talk about f-f-f-feelings?

GASP!

Yes, I live in a household full of males, and that’s often the refrain I hear when I want to have a “deeper conversation.” But the truth is, even women don’t often know how to talk about feelings—or more specifically, how to validate them.

So today I want to talk about one of the best ways to encourage someone—through the validation of feelings.

I have to say that validation is a fine art that should be practiced often and with great precision, because it is like a warm embrace to a frozen heart. But first, we must understand the steps to take in our efforts to meet this important human need.

Step One: Understand the magnitude of someone’s spoken feelings

When people disclose personal feelings, realize there are invisible questions that every person thinks:

  • Are my feelings okay?
  • Do you understand them?
  • Do you care about them?
  • Do you accept them?  (And remember, accepting someone’s feelings is not the same as agreeing with them)

So, be sure to communicate a welcoming attitude to your friend from the outset.

Step Two: Acknowledge their feelings

This can be done by simply reflecting back what you’ve just heard the person say. For example: “It sounds like this is a very frustrating (hurtful, confusing, fearful, etc.) experience for you.”

Third Step: Seek Clarification

Most of the time, we don’t understand all the emotions that are brimming under the surface for our friends. It’s easy to skim over this and try to shift the focus back to ourselves, where we feel more comfortable. Resist this tendency and ask for more details about how the person feels. So the next step connects the words in step two with step three . . .

“It sounds like this is a very frustrating (hurtful, confusing, fearful, etc.) experience for you. Is that what you’re feeling right now?”

Remember, don’t rush this part or move on until you’ve gained an assurance that you’ve clearly heard and understood the other person’s feelings.

Fourth Step: Show Empathy

Hopefully, once you’ve fully explored all that your friend is feeling, you will catch a glimpse into the pain or confusion that is your friend’s feeling(s). So at that point, communicate how your friend’s feeling(s) has emotionally moved you.

For example: “It breaks my heart to see you in this pain. Please know that I want to be a safe place for you as you go through this time.”

If you practice this simple method of validation, I can guarantee that you’ll have given your friend an invaluable gift. Emotional validation is the soft and comforting embrace we all want and need when life gets hard. Try it today!

“Like free radicals, feelings wander around the conversation looking for some acknowledgement to hook onto.  They won’t be happy until they get it, and nothing else will do.” –Henry Cloud and John Townsend

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How to Find Your Way Out of a Conflict

A while back my husband, Gary, and I were discussing something very important. At one point, Gary said something that made me feel like he disagreed with my viewpoint. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have bothered me very much. But because this issue was such a raw issue—one that carried a lot of “baggage”—our discussion immediately escalated into an argument.  For me, it felt like I was emotionally flooding—drowning in the intensity and alienation of it all.

Since our emotions were so strong and peaked at such a rapid rate, it startled me. Thankfully God used that intensity to grab my attention, and I immediately tried to gain some perspective.

  • I asked myself, Why am I feeling this so strongly?
  • I asked myself, Why is Gary not seeing my point?
  • I asked myself, How does this discrepancy look from his perspective?

As I considered my answers to those questions, I realized almost immediately that seeing things from his perspective was crucial and key to my understanding of where he was coming from. Quickly, my feelings soon followed suit, calming down and transforming into empathy.

So I told him that I could see his perspective, and from his perspective I could understand how he would feel the way he did. Once I said those words, it was like turning a key in a locked door. Immediately, our communication opened up and we were able to discuss the matter with patience and greater understanding.

Very often when any of us are in a moment of conflict with someone, we lose perspective. We get lost in the jumble of emotions and words. I think that all that I did to bring clarity to my situation was play the game of, “Where’s Waldo?” or in my case, “Where’s Gary?” In other words, I needed to inject myself into the issue from Gary’s point of view.

When I’ve played the actual game, “Where’s Waldo,” I’ve often felt a bit overwhelmed by the confusion of it all. It’s really very hard to find that goofy little guy! You have to spend a good amount of time scanning over every tiny image and overlapping detail. But when you finally find him, you feel exhilarated! You feel amazed at your accomplishment. My hope is that you feel that same exhilaration when you find your “Waldo,” whoever that might be!

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7 Ways to Develop Empathy and Gain Insight

I have a unique vantage point as a counselor that many never get to see. I get to take a step back and “see the forest for the trees” whenever I’m dealing with a couple in crisis. The couple probably came to me because they feel like they are on different wavelengths and the frustration is building to the point of a melt-down. When I stand back, often I see multiple problems, but none is bigger than the inability to feel empathy in the relationship.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to come alongside someone, and not only see a person’s point of view, but also experience the other person’s pain. You go beyond feeling sorry for that person, since that would be sympathy. And go deeper, seeking to understand that person’s pain until you are able to feel the hurt, which in turn should move you to a comforting response.

What Does Empathy Do?

Empathy soothes. Empathy heals. Empathy fills the gap. In fact, I think empathy is like the “Super Glue” of distant and hurting relationships. It can pull you tightly to your partner and keep you together in all kinds of trouble.

How Do You Develop Empathy?

There are seven ways, among many, to develop empathy. I hand picked these, because I feel they are among the best strategies. And to help you remember them, the methods are an acrostic for – INSIGHT.

Imagine – Use your imagination in several ways to your advantage.

  1. One way is to imagine yourself in that person’s situation. Really take time to think through how you would feel if you were in that person’s shoes—especially regarding the pain they are experiencing.
  2. Another way is to imagine the person as a child. If you have photos of the person as a child, use them to help you visualize. Often when we consider the person in the vulnerable stage of childhood, our defenses tend to lower and lessen.

Nurture the Relationship

Make a point to regularly practice caring behaviors with this person. When you act lovingly toward someone, it actually increases your feelings of love, as well as, your ability to empathize with that person.

Set Aside Your Beliefs, Concerns and Personal Agenda

When you are dealing directly with this person, you have to go into the conversation empty handed—with no personal expectations or goal of fixing them. Very often couples come at each other with baggage from their past or presuppositions that muddy the communication waters. Instead, you must be willing and eager to have your mind and perspective changed. Your only agenda is listening to your partner’s feelings and trying to understand your partner’s point of view.

Identify with Their Experiences

When the other person begins to share, focus on the feelings and situations that you’ve experienced in the past that are similar. This will deepen your emotional insight into the other person’s plight.

Gain Personal Perspective

This method involves working on your personal identity. In other words, you need to learn who you are separate from the other person. If you do not have a clear sense of identity, then you can become “enmeshed” (emotionally entangled and dependent upon the other person) and will tend to take things too personally. When you take things personally, you cannot separate yourself enough to feel the other person’s pain. Begin to practice emotionally detaching—not allowing the other person’s negative behavior to determine your mood or choices. In time, you will gain a greater sense of identity and separateness that will offer you the advantage of perspective.

Heal Past Hurts

If you don’t heal past hurts, you will be like a walking wound and anyone who brushes up against you will send shock waves of anger and pain through your body. This anger keeps you from seeing the other person’s feelings. Instead, you become self-absorbed with your own pain. If you find ways to resolve your hurts, you can turn your focus off of yourself and clearly see your partner’s pain.

Turn to God

As humans, our ability to empathize is extremely limited without God’s help. We may try to empathize based on sheer will-power, but when the heat is on or the situation endures, our empathy quickly evaporates. That’s why it is essential to turn to God, because He gives us the mercy, compassion and grace that are necessary to develop empathy. It’s as if our empathy cup never runs dry, when God is the One pouring His abundant compassion into our hearts.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

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