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.
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?
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.