The Path of Nurturing Yourself and Others: Empathy and Honesty
If we don't love and care for ourselves fiercely, we cannot be fierce advocates for this wondrous world and her beings. Taking time and energy to understand oneself, and to then to manage the outcomes of this understanding is not a selfish act, but a self-full blessing that nurtures us, and hence the many others to whom our souls are deeply connected.
Self-empathy means identifying and considering our feelings and needs without judgment, and it is no easy task. We all grew up in a culture where blame, domination, judgment, bullying, and power over others were the methods that were modeled for us as ways to meet our needs. If our needs were not being met, it was surely the fault of someone else – someone fundamentally wrong, at least in some aspects of their being. The tools we have for thinking about others are also the tools with which we think about ourselves: so we also see ourselves as basically flawed and lacking. These negative judgments harm our well being, sap our energy, divert us from our goals and dreams, decrease our happiness and effectiveness, and affect our health.
Self-empathy is necessary for our individual flourishing, and is a hallmark of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the awareness of one's emotions and the ability to manage them. While a person’s emotional intelligence is influenced by genetic predisposition and by encouragement (or discouragement) in the early years, almost all of us, whatever our genes or age, have the capacity to increase, at least a little bit, our emotional intelligence – and thus our self-understanding and care.
As animals, we have emotions. Almost constantly, we are having one or more emotions. The fact that we are having them, though, doesn’t mean we know we are having them. Nor does it mean we know which one(s) we are having.
We have to bring to higher consciousness the emotions, feelings, moods, and body states our mind and body is communicating. The limbic system, the location in our brains through which emotions communicate to our mind, body, and higher cognitive functions, is a slow learner. It takes repetition and practice to grow awareness of emotions and to manage them. If we can do this, we have greater choices on how to think, feel, and act. To be fully alive means feeling everything – the comfortable and the uncomfortable. Don’t push any of it away. Whatever you’re trying to ignore or deny or suppress, that’s what you’re dead to. Life isn’t about what you like. It’s about what you can open yourself to – attend to, learn from, love.
The more honest you can be with seeing yourself for who you are, which means not suppressing your feelings, the more tenderly honest you can be with others. You can also more clearly communicate what you really mean to in a way that helps build connections and trust with another, and can help you be precise, open, and curious about requests you have of others and how they respond to you. If you suspect that your honest message will be painful, be ready to offer empathy to the receiver. Also, couple your honest messages with clear and doable requests in the moment.
Being honest with others helps us live authentically and be more deeply connected to life, not matter how the other people around us react. Honesty, authenticity, and connection most likely communicate self- and other-acceptance, which makes it more likely to be listened to and understood.
In summary, honesty and empathy helps us live better with ourselves and with our world, and in so doing, nurtures our relationships and communications so that all have a greater chance for flourishing.
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