This summer, we focus our attention on emotional awareness. In the weeks ahead, we will dissect individual emotions, explore their purpose, the way they manifest themselves in us and our children, helpful tools to handle each emotion, and ways to guide our children through their intricate characteristics. As I began to write out my thoughts about a common emotion experienced and mishandled by yours truly almost daily, I was confronted with a more foundational component to exploring these emotions that arise in response to our daily experiences and thoughts regarding our worth, our relationships, our desires, our dreams, and our purpose. Empathy. Without having the foundational value of caring how others are feeling, we can have the most keen emotional awareness, but not enjoy its benefits. We simply cannot expect to benefit from knowing our emotions, how to handle them, and what might cause them if we don’t have the ability to care about the emotional experience of others. The recent pandemic has reminded us that we were designed for connection. Our lives are intertwined in such a way that our emotions impact the emotions of others, and vice versa. Empathy is a key for understanding and navigating the interconnections of our emotional lives.
Empathy, the skill of caring what another person is feeling, is a challenge for everyone, including parents. It is easier to empathize for the mom who is dealing with a sick child or a friend who is caring for her sick parents, but when it comes to the mundane, every day emotions that our children are feeling, empathy becomes a much more difficult skill to implement. In all the demands of the day, addressing the ever-pesky anxiety, hurt feelings, or picky eaters can sometimes be overwhelming. We can be inclined to see our children’s emotions as barriers to the things we need to accomplish throughout our day. It can be tough to remember the intense sadness of losing something dear to us when the ratty, stuffed penguin goes missing. It can be challenging to care about the fear experienced over a bee buzzing when the fear that we experience as a parent has desensitized us to the fears of a child. Our child’s playground conflict may seem trivial when we have been yelled at by a boss or colleague. The emotions of others may be hard for us to understand, but failing to empathize leaves our loved ones feeling unloved, unheard, unvalued, and sends the message “You are not allowed to feel.” Relationships of any nature, whether spousal, social, professional, or parental, cannot thrive if we fail to practice empathy.
As we explore each emotion this summer, even if you are not prone to feeling that emotion, I challenge you to ask, “What must it feel like to experience those thoughts and emotions? How would I want to respond if that were happening to me? How would I need someone to come along side me if I were experiencing that?” I challenge you to really put yourself in the shoes of those that are in your life: those that you love dearly, those that irritate you to high-heaven, those that can hurt your heart a little easier. When you begin to understand how that might feel, take the time to tell them “ouch, I feel that too.”
Feeling with you,
Tiffany Raley, M.A.