Archive for the ‘Loving Others’ Category

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)

tuesdays unwrapped at cats



How is Empathy Developed?

When empathy has been shown to me, I’ve felt as if someone has wrapped a warm blanket around my shivering cold shoulders. But when I’ve had to share that same warmth with others, especially those who’ve hurt me, it hasn’t been so easy to achieve.

I see many in my counseling office who struggle in the same way to show empathy toward a controlling spouse, a rebellious teenage son or daughter, or a rude and demanding boss. Sadly, this gap must be bridged with empathy or there will be no understanding, no connection, no healing.

I will be sharing in a future post, what I’ve learned and done to develop empathy and compassion in my life. But for now, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what you’ve done that has worked to soften and open your heart.


4 Ways to Handle the Crazy-maker in Your Life

Is there someone in your life who drives you crazy?  If so, I can relate.  Here are 10 tips that I hope are helpful to dealing with that crazy-maker in your life.

1. Pray about your attitude.

Tell God exactly how you feel about this crazy-maker. He already knows, so you might as well be honest with him.  And the need to vent about your stress and frustration will be released into the arms of the only person who can do something about it!   In other words, ask God to change and rearrange the crazy-maker in your life, and more than anything, ask God to change your heart too!

2.  Stop expecting the other person to change.

The sad facts are that we cannot change someone else.  We can influence the other person, but we cannot change the crazy-maker in our life.  But if we adjust our expectations when the crazy-maker makes us . . . crazy, then the dynamic shifts.  Often the irritation we are feeling is drastically reduced simply because we’ve adjusted our expectations of the other person.

3. Journal about your feelings.

Yeah, yeah, I know some of you are groaning out there!  But even though every counselor recommends journaling, it really does help!  And of those of you who groaned—how many of you know that exercising is important to your physical health?  Well, journaling is like the exercise of your heart, mind and relationships, and is necessary to bring and maintain that health.  I like to address my journalings to God.  But you can simply write out your thoughts and feelings about the crazy-maker in your life, and it will help you to feel better and, most importantly, help you to gain perspective.  We all need more perspective in our relationships—especially with the crazy-makers in our lives.

4.  Find one or two ways you can positively impact the situation.

It may seem hopeless at times, but often there is at least one thing that you can do to improve the way you feel.  For example, if the other person resists doing things your way, then stop suggesting ideas for him or her.  Instead, ask “What are some strategies you think we should try to deal with this problem?”  Of course, that means you might have to give up control of how the situation is handled, and that can be harder than dealing with resistance! But often the other person comes up with at least one solution that you both can agree on and do.  This also can ignite personal responsibility in the other person, who may have needed that vote of confidence from you in the first place.  As the other person feels you are listening to his or her concerns or just sharing the decision-making, you may see the crazy-maker’s fears and resistances transforming into cooperation. It’s a win-win situation for everyone!


What is Love?

Love is . . .

Developed in times of difficulty

Infatuation is . . .

Spoiled in times of difficulty

Love is . . .

Empowered by what is good and true

Infatuation is . . .

Fueled by good times

Love is . . .

A result of intentional and sacrificial choices that eventually bloom into feelings

Infatuation is . . .

Quickly ignited by feelings and images that extinguish just as quickly

Love is . . .

Persevering no matter what comes your way

Infatuation is . . .

Preoccupation with whomever strikes your fancy

Love is . . .

Seeking God to fill the void when your loved one isn’t so lovable

Infatuation is . . .

Pursuing a “soul-mate” in an effort to feel complete

Love is . . .

Hard work

Infatuation is . . .

Effortless and involuntary

Love is . . .

Vulnerable when selfishness or self-pity is allowed to flourish

Infatuation is . . .

Fed by self-centeredness and grandiosity

Love is . . .

Established by giving and receiving respect

Infatuation is . . .

Energized by being the object of worship

Love is . . .

Strengthened by fearful self-disclosures which pave the way to a deeper bond

Infatuation is . . .

Weakened by fearful revelations that shatter the dream


2 Kinds of Listening

“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people don’t know the difference.” David Augsburger

Most people think of listening as a tennis match where you volley the conversation ball back and forth, back and forth. I listen to what you have to say, think about how it relates to me, then volley back my response to you.  It all seems well and good.  You may even feel that you are showing how well you relate to what the other person is saying.  That’s important and courteous, right?  It is, sometimes, but sometimes it is the absolute worst thing you can do.

There is another kind of listening that’s needed  at times.  This kind of listening is more like fishing than a good game of tennis.  So let’s call it “Deep Sea Listening.”  With Deep Sea Listening, it is as if you lower you hook (fasten ears and eyes on your friend) into the water and wait.  When you feel the line become taut, you know you must reel in your catch. Just like fishing, if you are in the middle of a catch, you don’t throw in another line.  You patiently and persistently pull whatever is down in the depths up to the surface.  When you Deep Sea Listen, you join hands with God to bring issues, feelings, insights and healing to the surface in the life of your friend.

How do you know when to go Deep Sea Listening?

It is not:

  • When you’re shooting the breeze as you shop with a friend at the mall
  • When you’re trying to connect with your spouse during a commercial break
  • When you’re sharing chit chat over the water cooler at work

It is:

  • When your friend is hurting and in some way let’s you know
  • When your friend is facing a huge decision and turns to you
  • When your friend shares about a personal dream or aspiration
  • When your friend shares a painful or meaningful revelation that has never been shared before (big clue!)
  • When you feel as if your friend has shared a piece of his or her soul with you

How do you Deep Sea Listen?

You stop your own agenda—your own need to relate to what the other person is saying.  It suddenly becomes about the other person and what he or she needs.  You ask questions that help the other person to identify what he or she is feeling.  You refrain from advising or being ahead or above the other person and instead focus on being with.  You avoid fixing the other person’s situation and simply embrace the other’s pain.  You zero in on what might help this person feel heard, acknowledged and validated.

I have found in my own life, that very few people know how or when to Deep Sea Listen.  But when you find someone who knows and does, the experience is nothing short of miraculous.

“Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” Proverbs 18:13 (MSG)


Having Difficulty Loving Someone?

When I was a kid, there was a girl who occasionally came to my church that I did not love.  I would look at her and think that she was from wrong side of the tracksShe smelled funny and didn’t have the same nice clothes that my friends and I wore.  She even acted a little odd.  So I never reached out to her or accepted her as a friend.  I judged her.

There’s an account in the Bible that I read recently that reminds me of my judgmental attitude.  It is about a Pharisee, named Simon, who invited Jesus over for dinner.  Probably there were lots of clean, well-dressed people at this dinner—all but one.  She was an uninvited guest and out of her deep love for Jesus, she washed his feet with her tears and anointed him with rare perfume.  In contrast, Simon had neglected to do for Jesus the bare minimum of courtesies that were expected in that day.

Ironically, Simon couldn’t contain his disdain for this woman and slammed Jesus in the process by saying of him,

“If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him.  She’s a sinner!”

Jesus responded with a parable that clearly nailed Simon’s judgmental attitude to the wall.  And before the account ends, Jesus says something I found very important,

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.  But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

I always thought that Jesus was being sarcastic about Simon’s state of sin, and perhaps he is.  But this time when I read it something else stood out.  I don’t think Jesus was sarcastically saying that Simon was innocent or had avoided the stench of sin.  I think Jesus was saying that Simon had not recognized the sin in his life.  He had not asked for forgiveness because he did not see that he needed it.  So he was “forgiven little.”  And when we do not seek forgiveness, we are unable to love.

Are you having difficulty loving someone?  Are you comparing yourself to someone and feel that you are so much better than they are?  Perhaps you have not smelled yourself lately.  A normal phenomenon happens when we live with a stink in our lives.  We get used to a smell that might have knocked us off our feet when we first took a whiff.  I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for me to take a bath—in Christ’s forgiveness.  Thank you God, for being willing to make me clean again!

*passages taken from the account in Luke 7:36-50 (NLT)