Self-Empathy: Breathing in New Life
Sometimes we are so emotionally triggered ourselves it becomes difficult to empathize with or even listen to others. And yet, if we don't tend to ourselves, we have little (or nothing) available to others. Self-Empathy is one way to breath life into yourself and your relationships. With it, you will be more internally resourced and available to others.
Take a moment now and find a quiet place to watch this video: Self-Empathy: Healing From the Inside Out by Mary Mackenzie, the co-founder of NVC Academy and CNVC Certified Trainer. Mary offers two experiential Self-Empathy exercises: I Love It When and What Do I Want / Why Do I Want It. Notice how these exercises help you deepen your ability to connect with self. (33 minutes)
Here's a reminder of how the exercises go to help support you:
- Now, write a new statement. Start it with, "I like (or love) it when I (insert need/value)." So, for instance, if your first sentence was "He's never on time." The new sentence might be, "I love it when I receive consideration and respect." If the first sentence was, "She's controlling." Your second sentence might be, "I like it when I have freedom to develop my own ideas."
- Now, close your eyes and let your second sentence run through your head over and over and over. Do this for 1-2 minutes, all the while noticing what you feel in your body as a result.
- What did you feel in your body this time? Maybe your hands, jaw and stomach relaxed a little. Or your breathing slowed down and became deeper. Your heart rate probably slowed down and you might have sat up straighter.
- I think this happened because you shifted your focus from what you don't like to what you value, which in the examples I offered is consideration, respect and freedom to develop my own ideas, consecutively. Once you are clearer about what you want, you relax.
It is profound to me how a simple shift in focus can make such a big difference.
For instance, what if we start a challenging conversation when our focus is on what's wrong with the other person and our breathing is fast and our hands and stomach are clenched. Is it likely we'll get a result that is satisfying to either party?
But what if we took 30 seconds to clarify what we want, slowed our breathing down, unclenched our hands and stomach, took a deep breath and then started the conversation. Instantly, we have a better chance of creating a conversation that could value both parties.
The Self-Empathy process is to think quietly to yourself (don't say it out loud), "I like/love it when (insert need/value)." The purpose is to help you get grounded in what matters to you before saying anything, because when we're grounded and clear about what we want, we are more likely to support greater understanding with others.
I'd like to offer one concrete example of how this simple Self-Empathy technique changed my relationships. For years, I was filled with judgments about how others didn't hear me. When I felt frustrated about this, I would talk louder and move in closer. Time after time people backed away from me when I did this and my desire to be heard was rarely met.
Then, in a moment of clarity, I realized that when I talk louder and move in closer, I am reacting to what I don't want, which was to be ignored.
Rather than trying my old, ineffective habit, I gave myself a moment of Self-Empathy and said quietly in my own mind, "I love it when I'm heard." I instantly took a deep breath and my body relaxed and I said to my friend, "Would you give me a moment to finish my statement before responding to it?" In this moment I chose to respond to what I wanted, to be heard. My friend said, "Sure." and let me finish what I was saying. It was liberating!
Self-Empathy literally helps you to respond to what you want rather than react to what you don't want. If you make a regular practice of it, it can breath life into all your interactions with others!
For more information about Nonviolent Communication, visit NVC Academy.