Empathy

n. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Some of the great things about empathy is when it can lead to having compassion for others and to applying that in order to create a safe space for others. Empathy can help reduce arguments, create teachable moments for all ages, and build connections with others.

One of the downfalls of empathy is when there is a lack of boundaries. I suffer from that. It is very often that I will be so empathic towards others that I feel as if I have no course of action, or at least not a desirable one, because if I now choose what I would have wanted to do prior to having said empathy, there will be the additional feelings of guilt.

Very notably, I’ve seen this play out in my work with clients. They have helped me understand their symptoms – great! Then I notice myself wanting to support them in a way that I consider to be helpful, but in fact, really isn’t. A client who may have a drug addiction? I may not convey how serious their addiction is in fear of making them feel judged. A client who may be depressed and can’t attend sessions? I may let the lack of appointments slide.

As I continue to develop my clinical skills, which in turn help me develop my interpersonal skills, I know that there will be times when I will struggle with empathy and boundaries. I will need to decide when I can be empathic and how I can use that empathy for the benefit of my relationships and for clients’ progress.

It has been an interesting journey to uncover how much more complicated empathy can be. On the surface, it sounds as simple as just putting myself in others’ shoes. Below that, it’s so much more complex.

Meaning

Who determines if your life has meaning?

Is it you? Does your impression on how you view your life make that determination? Should you do the things that matter the most to you, the things that make you happy? Because doing so would make you feel as if your life is worthwhile? If you are satisfied with what you have accomplished in your life, then your life has meaning?

Or does your life have meaning because others have found meaning in it? Does your life matter because someone else has been positively affected by your existence? That for whatever purpose you served on this mortal earth, just you being you made an impact in someone’s life?

What does it mean for your life to have meaning? What are we all searching for?

Change

People say one of the only constants (outside mathematics) in life is change. People will continue to change and be changed. The boy asked me the other day, after contemplating on the many years we had been together, “Have we changed?”

I would like to think that our experiences with one another and in our lives outside of one another have changed us, made us either better or worse than before. Sometimes it’s an experience we have that forever marks who we transform into. Sometimes it’s a relationship with another person that molds us into another being. Sometimes, it’s just the fact that you’ve eaten pizza rolls with a lack of exercise that forces you to change your life or change your clothes.

But when you have a relationship with someone, who changes? Is there a compromise? Can there be a compromise in which no one person “changes” who they are? I tell people that I’m quirky, I’m loud, I’m crass, and a lot of the things I do would probably be socially inappropriate. I know these things and I defend them because I have internalized these traits to be a part of who I am. If someone were to challenge me to do things differently, I’d have to think about what the purpose would be and really decide if I am modifying my actions and behavior for this person, or for the person I want to become. It’s not an easy task to distinguish between the two.

As I was typing this post, the entire stages of change went through my head. Also one of those social worker jokes.

“How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?”
“Only if the light bulb wants to be changed.”

And in those cases, when the light bulb refuses to be changed, or isn’t ready to change, we back off. In the cases with whom I have relationships, I am realizing that I cannot do much if the other is not ready for change. However, I cannot be the only one that modifies myself if another is unwilling. Perhaps I am missing that value, perhaps there’s something that’s unclear and yet to be seen in the midst of this emotional fog. At the end of the day, this will still change me. For better or worse.

Values

This past week has given me a great challenge to identify and solidify my values. Some people are really great with their morals and convictions but then something else comes along. Sometimes, what becomes really difficult is to choose between two very different opportunities. I was given that option this week and through a lot of introspection, reflection, and processing with others, I came to several conclusions.

One, I love comfort and while change can be exciting and worthwhile, sometimes, it’s okay to want to stay in some place comfortable.

Because two, even if it is comfortable, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities for growth and challenges. They can be found anywhere and to be in a space where those options are unlimited is amazing.

Three, quality people are hard to find. Quality people who get your quirky jokes, have a love for cats, and support you and your growth, are hard to find.

Four, I judge myself and project on others way more than I should.

Five, it’s important to figure out what my values are because that will determine how motivated I shall be.

Six, asking for advice is not as scary as it sounds, even from people who you may not think to ask.

There are probably more, but that’s a pretty good list for now. And it’s quite possible that my values may change in a few years. Things happen and that can always shift my perspective on life. But for now, this is the one I’m working with and I’m pretty happy with that.

PSA: Carpal Tunnel

I kid you not, I was scared last week that I would get carpal tunnel and have to wear a brace like a coworker of mine. So I evaluated my work space and realized that I was too low for the table, grabbed a set of pillows (eventually bought a better one) so I could prop myself up. Since then, I haven’t felt any strain on my wrists and it’s almost back to 100% functioning.

This has been a public service announcement.

Courtesy of ergonomics.

Validation

Sometimes, I think this is what most people need. It’s not about whether or not someone understands the problem you’re dealing with, but that someone can take the time to understand. But sometimes, best of all, it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one.

My first year in grad school I was afraid and anxious. I kept wondering if I was qualified to be there and if I was capable enough to survive grad school. Yes, I know that there are other people who do well and are able to do it, but I didn’t feel like I was excellent enough a student to be there. So when I found out that some of my other classmates felt like I did, felt overwhelmed, scared, and afraid, I felt so much better knowing that I wasn’t the only one who had this feeling of self-doubt.

Even if you can’t personally relate, validating someone’s feelings can just mean so much more to them. I know it does for me.

Back to the work!

Four more weeks!

Eeek!

Money

My current stream of consciousness is kind of all over the place, but bear with me.

I am not a woman of money. I don’t know what it will look like if and when I finish school this coming May, but I don’t expect a lot of money. I actually am not sure what to expect, but I am hoping that it will be something decent, something worthwhile. I know I didn’t go into this profession thinking I’d be raking it in, but I am hoping that it will be sufficient, enough to keep me happy and sane and just enough to get me out of this house. The hard part is that I like nice things and nice food and often times, these things and foods come with a higher price than I should probably indulge in. But that’s okay. Sometimes that’s what rainy days are for, that’s what saving is for. But at the end of the day, these nicer things and nicer foods aren’t the things that make me happy.

My parents did a lot of things for me as a kid. They shielded and sheltered me. While some can argue that wasn’t great, but at the same time, they gave me something that I don’t think I could have gotten otherwise: a childhood filled with friends and memories. I never felt poor or low-income. I felt happy. While I didn’t think we were rich or raking in the dough, I knew that we were okay. I knew that I had friends and a family and despite how much I hated some of their authority and decisions for me, I loved them anyway. They taught me that at the end of the day, a few pennies are just a few pennies, but a family can’t be replaced. They taught me that money will come and go, but it’s not important to have the “finer” things in life because I already have them. My parents, or more specifically, my father, didn’t want me to worry about the things that didn’t matter like money so I could go live life and be a kid. My father made it possible for me to not depend on money, to see it as a necessity to live.

Yes, maybe I wasn’t able to fully learn the value of money in that way, I learned something better. I don’t need a lot to make me happy, but the little things. While I may be slightly unhappy now with a mother who is nuts, but set that aside, I am happy. Sure, I like fancy foods, fancy things, but I can live without those. Give me a decent living space and people in my life who matter and I will be happy.

I don’t need much and that’s okay. It’s what the East Side taught me and even though it becomes a smaller and smaller part of my existence, it will remain a big part of me.

Support

One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in the past few years is how to be of support to someone I love, to someone I care about. We have automatic tendencies to give advice, to say something of use to another person, but sometimes, that’s just not what the person wants or needs to hear.

I remember hearing of a poem and since then, I have kept it in my mind ever since. It is hard for me, for us, to just listen. To be able to sit in the other person’s pain and not want to remedy or alleviate. But it’s important to sit, to share in, to feel what that person is going through.

This was evident during the summer and following up to last night. Partner was struggling, consumed with anxiety and fear and it was so hard for me to resist comfort. While I failed here and there, I had to learn how to say different things. Instead of trying to reassure and tell him that he would do fine, I had to say that I would be there for him despite whatever outcomes may have arisen. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything at all, maybe I should have.

A few weeks ago, a friend shared difficulties with her partner, about what he was going through and how difficult it was for her to be witness to that. I remember suggesting to her that she check in with the therapist he was going to see, to ask the therapist how she could be of support to him. I have remembered that since because it reminded me of how I should react and also what I need to suggest to my clients. Granted, in that latter position, I actually get to provide the suggestions, but it’s a reminder to the kids and the families I work with that yes, while the kid is the one coming to therapy, in reality, it’s all of them. All key players are a part of that child’s life and how can we all be a team and learn to support what that kid’s needs are?

It’s hard. It’s hard to just listen, to do nothing more than listen. I am still struggling with it. It’s a fine line to cross – at which point is someone asking for advice and at which point is someone not? Is the question implied? Or is a disclaimer needed? What I do know is that I need to be more mindful of when that occurs and truly strive to be as supportive as I can.