Saturday, October 11, 2008


We have all experienced frustration and pain as we interact with those who spend much of their lives seeking what they did not receive from their parents, in this case "seeking mirroring." When the need to be understood takes precedence over mutuality in social situations, social interchanges can feel like a one way street patrolled by an angry police officer. The need for recognition and understanding can be so intense that it may be experienced by others as demanding and self centered. Is it any wonder that this stance frequently provokes discord and rejection and then becomes another example of "not being understood?"

Hidden behind the anger in a person "seeking mirroring" is the child who fears that the search will be in vain. Herein lies the risk for depression: the adult once again experiences the pain of not being understood ~ of not receiving empathy. The loneliness of the moment may be expressed as anger but the expectation of chronic disappointment will create the risk for enduring depression.

For those who have histories of being raised by caregivers who lacked empathy, the pursuit of empathy as an adult may be chronically in vain. Because of this, even slight failures in empathy from an important other, are powerfully reminiscent of childhood and convincing evidence that the possibility of an empathic friend, therapist, or spouse is nonexistent. Lack of empathy, when present in its extreme form, allows people to exploit others without remorse.

For those involved in ministering to others, empathy is a necessary skill. Men and women in ministry typically have strong empathic abilities. Nevertheless, there are pitfalls in practicing empathy. A common mistake occurs when a minister assumes he or she knows how another person is feeling because, "that's how I would feel" in a similar situation. "How I would feel" may or may not be the same as how another person feels. Non assumptions could lead to trying to rescue people who aren't in need and don't want help. We have all seen how this can lead to frustration and even burnout. Ultimately, accurate empathy depends on genuine curiosity about the other person and recognition of their feelings; this helps establish the groundwork for accurate communication.

No comments: