Having trouble being Empathetic?

Empathy, it’s definitely something I know how to do very well when I’m seeing clients in my Kanata office. But when I’m off duty from my work as a therapist and on Mom duty, well I don’t always earn high marks in being empathetic towards my partner or my children.  We’ve  all make mistakes and been that not so perfect parent or partner. We’ve all watched other parents loss their cool, snap, and yank their kids around telling them to stop their whining or crying.  It can be really tough, somedays to keep our cool and be empathic and caring to those we love.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is an emotional understanding of another’s feelings or problems.  We don’t have to have experienced the same situation or problems to feel empathy. We need to be emotionally sensitive so we can imagine how they feel.

Why am I having Trouble Being Empathetic?

Some days I can be the best parent around keeping cool and not crying over split milk. But others days, watch out! I’m not proud to say, I can be just as crazy as the next person. What makes it hard for me to keep my cool and be empathic?

I’m impatient 

I feel pressured to get dinner on the table “on time”. We need to make the school bus or get to school before the bell rings because I hate having to sign in the kids later. This is pressure I feel from society that “I’m not a good parent” if I can’t get my child to school on time. I’ve got to get to an appointment on time. I’m in a rush.

This is exactly when I need to slow down and put things into perspective. Stop and think  “What is more important? Getting to work at 8:44 versus 8:55 or your relationship with your child or your spouse.” Tonight when you get home what will be different if you scream at your kids or your partner versus slowing down and being empathetic and more understadning? Relationships need to always trump being on time or expectations I put on myself.

I’m caught up in my own anger

If you find yourself heading towards anger and rage when someone like a child needs something from you, this is the time to walk away from the situation if you can. It’s OK for Moms or Dads to put themselves in “time out”. And only walk away if your child is not in a life threatening situation or in pain or is in a safe location and can be left unsupervised for a few minutes. And when I mean walk away I mean you go hide in the bathroom or bedroom to collect your cool for a few minutes, call a friend your partner for support, tell your partner they need to take charge of the situation or hide somewhere taking a few deep breathes to regain your calmness. A quick short break when you’re going to loss your cool is important to helping you maintain your sanity and your relationship with your child and family.

When we respond in anger or rage to helplessness or tears from a child we are being set off by something from within ourselves. What is it about someone else’s emotions that cause you for flare up? We all have “things” that set us off but we also need to stop think, examine and explore why this is happening.  It is not OK to constantly loss your cool with your kids. We all do loss our cool sometimes but if this is a daily or weekly occurrence, maybe it’s time to talk to a therapist about your feelings and temper.

I’m exhausted 

When we are at our physical limits it’s really tough to keep everything in check and under control.  I remember being so exhausted and tired when my kids were babies. I know what it’s like when my partner had to be away from us and I had to care for the children all day and all evening and I couldn’t’ wait until bedtime.

A break from continual child caring is essential to any parent’s emotional wellbeing. However much we enjoy being with our children, we all need time away to recharge and rejuvenate. You need to figure out what will help you recharge? Is it a day to yourself? Going to the gym? A quick walk or run? Watching movies, reading books, being creative or just hanging out with your friends? We each have a special activity we enjoy that makes us feel refresh and alive. It is essential that you take the time for yourself. It will make the world of difference in how you relate to others and feel about yourself.

How can Parents increase their empathy?

Empathy is a learnt behaviour.  We can work on improving our own empathy by considering other peoples’ emotions.  we need to step out of our needs and into the needs of others. This takes me back to my question “What is more important? My relationship with my child or partner or my own agenda? When I was younger there were times when I would choose my agenda (knowing how disastrous that choice was). Now, I really focus on my relationship as time flies by, kids grow up quickly, I’m just a bit wiser now and I don’t like stepping into crap too often. Honestly we all have needs but my relationship is way more valuable to me cause my “agenda” just doesn’t give warm and cuddly hugs and kisses to me.

We can only be empathic if we can step out of ourselves and our agenda, our primal needs, and truly feel and experience the emotions and experiences of the other person. yes this can be really tough when you haven’t had enough sleep, your morning java, or what ever the day has thrown your way.

LISTENING is an important skill that can help you show empathy. Show the other person, your child or your partner, that the most important thing for you right now, at that moment, is to listen to their concerns. Get down on your hands and knees if you’re talking with a small child. Stop multitasking and face the person who is talking to you. Often, if you listen empathetically, sometimes the problem can be resolved just through listening.

woman offering comfort

Make yourself vulnerable. By expressing our emotions and feelings create a empathic bond with those we love and care for. Think about it. You can say the same words but with different emotional tone and meaning. That injection of emotions, caring, and understanding makes a world of difference. By getting emotionally engaged with the the person you can convey how much you feel for them.  By this, I do not mean for you to get emotionally overwhelmed too or emotionally overreact but to show you have feelings right now.  Let your child, your partner or your friend see your emotions, your soft gentler side. You can also show empathy nonverbally too through your gestures, a gentle touch or a simple smile and your proximity to those you are trying to comfort.

Learn to control your emotions, your temper, or your short fuse. We all loss our cool sometimes but if you find yourself getting hot under the collar too many times it’s definitely time to take charge  and responsibility of your emotions. Examine what is bothering you that it doesn’t take much for you to loss your cool. Getting upset or angry or disappointed is normal but You are responsible for your reactions. If any of the above feels difficult or challenging to do, then it is time for some help. Call us at Family-Therapy. We are here to support you and your family to create a happier harmonious home. We can be reached at 613-287-3799.

Empathy is the only human superpower – it can shrink distance, cut through social and power hierarchies, transcend differences, and provoke political and social change.

Elizabeth Thomas