So, I promised a blog post. I truly thought I was going to write it on my “favorite” cause, Autism awareness, but I changed my mind while I was in the shower because I was contemplating the concept of Empathy. I just finished reading the chapter on it in my Non-Violent Communication book in order to begin preparation for monday’s discussion group, and it struck me that I needed to read that chapter exactly when I did. Relating it back to autism, one of the hardest things I have to do is make an attempt to empathize with my son on a daily basis. He really can’t tell me what he is feeling or what his needs are unless they are immediate basics like food or drink or bathroom, etc. So I have to play the deciphering game every day. I imagine I’ll be playing it for the rest of my life, really.
Then it struck me, aren’t we all really playing that game? Is this why my higher power sent me the messages it did this week? I had been praying to get past some resentment and anger that I’ve been experiencing. I got some amazing advice yesterday and the last group of NVC and now today from the book itself.
1st, last week, my other group folks at the discussion group said to me, “Have you tried empathizing?” and I said basically, “I am angry, I don’t want to empathize with that jerk”. Well, I’ve been contemplating this all week and my mind just kept repeating that, “I don’t want to empathize with him, I don’t like him, he’s a jerk, he did this and that to me, he hurt my family, he’s a bad man” etc, ad infinitum for a while. So, a long time ago someone told me that an effective way to get rid of these bad thoughts is praying for the other person and/or praying from relief from bad thinking. But when I thought about this, it really meant, try empathy. Try it on yourself and try it on him and see if that helps you.
So I was trying, but not really understanding it, not really DOing it, when I had a meeting with my pastor yesterday at UU to discuss the talk I am going to give about autism and my son. Now, my pastor, as all good pastors usually are, is an amazing listener, and has great skills in empathy and non-violent communication. His wife is trained in NVC as well. He did what a good empathizer does and asked me if I wanted some advice on a new way to think about how to handle these negative emotions and I, very eagerly, replied, Oh yes! because no matter what I was doing in my inner dialogues and prayers, nothing was really relieving me of the bad thinking and I was beginning to feel upset with myself for my inability to “get over it” as it were.
So, his advice was basically, “Invite the emotion in like a house guest. Recognize it, talk to it, treat it like a welcome friend who has something to teach you.” (I am paraphrasing naturally). I was, quite frankly, blown away by this. He took down a beautiful poem by Rumi that he’d posted on his door and read it to me, which basically stated in an extremely beautiful way, the same concept. Why, goodness, I could actually LEARN something?? This spoke to me, the eternal learning person, as something I could recognize and do. So, all day yesterday I contemplated the emotions that were hanging about in my “house” without trying to understand them or banish them or do something about them. I felt pretty calm all day, but not perfect, of course.
However, this calmness really helped me in dealing with my son deciding he couldn’t sleep well. Like any child, he was excited about spending the day with his father today at Take Your Child to Work day and was a bit too over excited to sleep well. He came in, naked, at 5am, looking for some help getting dressed for the day, then promptly fell asleep as soon as I did that. Meanwhile, I was wide awake. I tried reading some fantasy novel that I’ve taken out of the library. I tried tossing and turning, but my brain was awake and wanted the rest of my body out of bed and drinking coffee, so I got up.
Long about 7am, I was getting a bit bored waiting for the kids’ dad to come get them and decided to read my chapter on empathy. I had been putting it off, see above, because, like a little kid, I was mentally stamping my foot “I don’t want to empathize with that bloody bastard, nyah”. So, I just started reading it, and like the sunrise, I felt myself dawning with understanding of what empathy really is. And how necessary this message was for me today. I learned some stuff and I will have to work at putting it into practice, but I marveled at how, when we ask our higher power for help, if we are not listening, we might actually miss the information it is throwing in our faces! I had my group, then my friends, then a pastor, then a book all giving me the same messages. EMPATHY. Recognize your emotions and accept them. Recognize that other people have emotions, they have needs, you can listen for them and recognize them.
Whoa!!! Ok, I think I got this!! When I am contemplating alone, like today, and learning to welcome the anger, resentment, annoyance, frustration, etc. While I welcome these emotions and examine them, I will probably have some insights into what the need is that is not being fulfilled and see if I can do something about that. In the meanwhile, I am not throwing emotions down into a black hole to be handled later, but I am handling them. I am empathizing with myself. This is a pretty important skill when you are a single person. There aren’t that many people in your life that have the time, the knowledge, or the inclination to spend time figuring out your emotions and helping you fix them. Most of us have to pay someone to do that. But if you can figure out this skill on your own, you can do a lot of work and grow and change and get healthier.
More importantly, all those people you encounter, even the ones that bring you negative emotions, you can turn it around by actively hearing them and learning to recognize their emotion and need. When my X is 20 minutes late getting the children, instead of being really angry with him, I can wonder how he is feeling. Maybe he is trying to tell me by his words, “I’m sorry I’m so late, the traffic was bad, or I had something I had to finish at work and couldn’t get away in time.” He is trying to say, “I feel bad about being late and not calling/messaging” or “When I call you, I know you will feel angry with me, so I am afraid to call and hear the anger since I know I cannot fulfill your need for promptness and I don’t want you to be angry with me”. I can hear that he really needs to be empathized with. I can say, “That must have really been frustrating, trying to get done so you can be with your kids!”. Instead of getting accusatory as I am wont to do at these times because I am upset and am not having a need filled. By empathizing with him and finding out what he needs, I take the focus off of my anger, my frustration, and you know what? By the time I get done empathizing, I am no longer upset. I’ve gained an understanding, I’ve had my need for explanation fulfilled, I’ve had my need for peaceful interaction fulfilled, and I feel better without ever even having expressed my own irritation where it wasn’t needed. Maybe the next time, he won’t be afraid to call because he knows I understand how upset he is? Maybe. Time will tell.
I have so far to go, and so much practice to do. But thank you, higher power, for giving me the messages I needed. Ask and ye shall receive.