what is empathy

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					Empathy Training: Prayer, Meditation and Practice
By wali khan

Every person has limits and thresholds for experiencing empathy towards
another person. It becomes fruitless and useless to expect someone to
feel empathy for you or someone else when they have reached the limits of
their capacity for feeling empathy. You, yourself, have your own empathy
limits, where someone else's actions, words, behavior seem so crazy and
distressing to you that you feel your empathy limits being strained to
the breaking point. There is no use being angry and disappointed with
yourself when your empathy limits have been surpassed.

When this point has been breached by someone else's seemingly insensitive
behavior, actions and words, you'll probably feel like a failure. On the
surface, you are experiencing a failure like feeling for not being able
to respond to the situation with empathy. Your empathic boundaries have
been stretched, strained and broken. What can you do about this dilemma?
You certainly would like to have enough powers of persuasion to convince
the offending parties to stop their offensive words and actions. But,
alas! That may not be the case and you are left with a dilemma.

The Empathy Prayer and Meditation

I suggest a prayerful, feeling expressive meditative exercise that could
increase your capacity for empathy in the future. Yes! You can pray,
meditate and cry out your feelings about your empathy limitations. First,
enter your meditative state by securing a quiet, dimly lit comfortable
sitting, reclining or lying down position. Background meditative music
will help facilitate migration into deeper brain centers. Eyes can be
open or shut. Breathe comfortably and slowly through your nose, into your
belly and then into your chest. Slowly let the air exhale through your
mouth. You could chant the mantra, "OMMMMMMM!" Visualize a situation
where you failed to empathize with someone else's inability to empathize.
Guess what? The limits of your ability to empathize were triggered by the
other person's limited capacity for empathy feeling.

Focus on this scene and let your feelings and pain be expressed. If it is
within your spiritual orientation, you may pray to receive the divine
gift of expanded and increased capacity for experiencing empathy in those
situations where someone else is speaking and behaving in a crazy making
fashion. Wait a few minutes and the heavenly gift for expanded empathy
will enter into your very being. Give thanks! At this point, you'll
experience a greater sense of confidence in your ability to withstand
other people's unintentional attempts to drive you crazy. You may also
pray for the expansion of the other person's capacity for feeling
empathy. Let's face it! We can all use more empathy.

Empathy Training

Call a friend and practice you're listening skills. Are you listening
with true empathy? Do you paraphrase and reflect back the notion that you
are truly listening and understanding what the other person is telling
you? Do you give positive, supportive and encouraging feedback?
Create a mental or written list of situations and people who have
stretched your empathy limits to the straining/breaking point. Let
yourself ponder and be aware of when, where and with whom your empathy
limits get stretched. Example: when being criticized, judged, evaluated,
provoked and attacked etc. etc. Your empathy limits may crash and burn
when someone makes a powerful paralyzing influence bid.

Assignment: Take such a past situation and mentally rehearse your non-
paralyzed response. Acknowledge the other person's attempt to influence
you and how your conformity to that influence bid would render you
unacceptable to yourself. You might say, "It sounds like there is
something in my style or a way of presenting myself that offends you. It
is not my intention to offend you. You are picking up something in me
that is unpleasant to you; but it is not unpleasant to me. Therefore, I
cannot change that and be true to myself." Another phrase you could use
is, "Is there something that I said or did that offended you? Can you
tell me exactly what it is and I will see if it is something that I wish
to change?" You could try, "I can see your point. But, you may have
confused me with someone or something else."

Perhaps someone has requested that you change something in yourself. If
your internal desire to change that particular thing matches the other
person's influence bid, you will be in empathic agreement. If their
attempt to influence you to change or do something, does not match up
with something desirable and syntonic within you, you will appear
resistant, argumentative and defensive. At that point, your fight/flight
responses will be tested to the limit. You may get a very powerful surge
of fear/anger hormones flooding your amygdala/limbic system. It will take
everything that you have to control yourself and allow your pre frontal
lobes/neocortex neurotransmitters to take over and handle the situation
with patience, calmness and empathy.

Primal Empathy

In the realm of Primal emotional intelligence, there's a deep emotional
reservoir of Primal, empathic emotional feelings. This area of the limbic
system is deeply connected to various parts of the gut viscera and the
heart. When these Primal, empathic emotional feelings are triggered and
tapped into, a surge of primordial scenes, images and feelings stream
into conscious awareness. These powerful experiences create profound
emotional intelligence changes. Empathy becomes a powerful conscious
force in a person's life. Thus, we see the birth and activation of deep
limbic, empathic intelligence. This limbic, neocortical empathic
capability separates us from lower evolutionary life forms. It makes us
different from fish and lower reptiles. It allowed us mammals to evolve
from our reptilian ancestors into social creatures more adaptable to a
wider universe. This empathic creation of the limbic system and its
connection to the neocortex, will eventually assist us in reaching out to
the stars and our interstellar neighbors. It will also propel us to the
messianic age, where love, compassion and understanding rules.

Empathy Tests
Part of training yourself to improve, expand and deepen your empathy
skills, will be tests in real life situations. Your self-awareness is
your greatest ally in being able to detect when someone else needs your
empathy. If someone approaches in a certain way that irritates you, then
you are probably in an empathy testing situation. Remember, your response
to the other person is about you and how you intend to use your empathy
skills to help and understand this other person.

 Empathy tests may occur at inconvenient and undesirable times. You will
have to catch yourself when someone comes at you unexpectedly. Of course,
it is always desirable for you to prepare yourself for unexpected
surprises. Expect the unexpected and you'll not be caught off guard,
where you might launch a dissonant response. First and foremost, practice
with loved ones and family members. They will usually be the ones who
will present you with the most challenging tests of empathy. Use your
family as an empathy training ground that can be transferred to the
larger world.

As a mental health professional, I have had the privilege and honor to
work with all types of people. Some of these people have been extremely
disturbed, attacking and provocative. Sometimes, it has taken everything
that I have in order to remain calm, empathic and understanding. People
will not always communicate with you in a way that is easy for you to
understand. But, if you remember that underneath all garbled and confused
messages, there is a meaning and clarity waiting to be discovered. If you
convey your willingness to understand what another person is trying to
say, you will be empathically successful.

Some Examples

 A person with schizophrenia may have trouble communicating in a direct
and organized fashion. Fragmented sentences, incoherent thought patterns,
slow and disconnected phrases intermixed with hallucinations, delusions
and telepathic voices can cause a listener to become frustrated and non
empathic. You can imagine how frustrating and embarrassing it is for the
brain disturbed person who desperately wants to be understood. If you are
faced with such a challenge, you could say, "I want to hear and
understand exactly what it is that you want me to understand. Now, what
exactly is it that you wish for me to know and understand? Take your time
and try to get it out!" This is where sincere reflective listening and
paraphrasing pays off. When the person feels non-judgementally received,
understood and accepted, mental confusion usually clears up. Empathy

Empathic listening also requires the use of proper assessment and
prescription skills. You can't solve a problem until you fully hear and
understand it. Some problems are quite simple and require easy
assessments and simple prescriptions. Other problems are quite complex
and require multiple strategies and prescriptions. For example, with the
person who has a mental disturbance, I would want to know if they have
had a lapse in taking medication. I have been very involved in the study
and implementation of megavitamin therapy. One person may have had a
reoccurrence of mental disorder symptoms, because of forgetting to take
medications and/or megavitamins. One young man started to show the
confusing signs of a schizophrenic relapse. Empathic listening discovered
that he had only taken half of his recommended dosage of niacin therapy.
Empathic discussion of his experience of telepathic voices helped him to
discern the differences between higher and lower order of voices, and
real vs. regressive telepathic episodes. Restoration of full megavitamin
therapy and enhanced understanding of his symptoms restored his

I have seen the same results obtained with bipolar disorder, severe
depressions, anxieties and distressing personality disorders. I have also
heard many of my psychiatric colleagues express an inability to treat
certain disorder classifications. My guess is that my esteemed colleagues
may have been pushed to the limits of their empathic capabilities.
Perhaps, what they needed was direct training in the powerful emotional
skill of empathy. One young man that I successfully treated, claimed that
he had been to 10 different psychiatrists and that they all wanted to
medicate him before they would start any kind of therapy. Can you imagine
that 10 psychiatrists empathically failed to tune in to this young man's
desire to be listened to and understood? Not one of them thought of
inquiring about how he felt concerning the taking of medication. I
listened and understood that if I had insisted autocratically that he'd
take medication, before he felt received, understood and accepted, he
would have bolted from therapy. His progress was rapid and his
cooperation was secured through patience and his feeling that I was truly
there to listen and understand. By winning his trust, I was able to
emotionally reeducate and reorient him towards utilizing his latent
strengths, while supporting his much-needed self-examination.

Receiving Feedback

Part of becoming more empathically capable is your willingness and
ability to be open and receptive to someone else's feedback. Most of us
like to think of ourselves as being honest and open. But upon closer
examination, you may notice that the willingness to receive feedback from
someone else is usually a decision that you choose to make or reject.
Feedback, when received, has the power of changing you and your behavior.
Granted, that some feedback is not helpful at all and may even be
destructive in the communication process. But, let's try a simple
experiment. Make the decision, that the next time a relative or a person
close to you, decides to give you feedback, that you will listen and be
open and vulnerable to the effects of that feedback.

Forget for a minute your justifications and rationalizations for not
accepting that person's feedback. Let the information get inside of you
and empathically reflect back to that person your understanding of the
feedback. First and maybe foremost, the feedback may affect you in a
positive way and secondly, it might give the sender the feeling of being
influential with you. When you allow another person to feel effective at
influencing you, you make them feel successful and perhaps more loving
towards you. It also gives them the sense that you are an open and
receptive person and that their influence bids are helpful and effective.
By being open to the other person's feedback, you encourage more two-way
communication and creative contributions through the process of feedback.
When feedback is non-critical, non-judgemental, non-evaluative and
respectful, it becomes a powerful tool for personal, relationship and
business growth. All relationships depend upon effective feedback for
change and growth. It pays to realize that the power of receiving
feedback will enhance your empathic capabilities. The most successful
relationships and partnerships are the ones that fully practice and
understand the power of feedback that is non-critical, non-judgemental
and respectful. Unfortunately, in highly charged emotional situations,
people will usually resort to negatively evaluative, disrespectful
judgments. This usually reflects the presence of hostile and defensive
emotions. It is difficult to give and receive effective respectful
feedback when you are engaged in fight/flight/freeze enmeshments. It is
also very difficult to be in a fully open, receptive feedback mode when
you detect any form of judgment or evaluation. Generally speaking, people
are sensitive to negative criticism and will defensively tense up at the
slightest hint that there is something wrong with them.

We all like to think of ourselves as competent and well-meaning and when
someone hurls or implies a negative judgment of us, it almost
automatically triggers a defensive response. Once you recognize this
natural defensive tendency in yourself, you can make conscious revisions
on how you react to such feedback. It is probably much easier to process
someone else's feedback when you personally solicit or seek it out. But
when feedback comes at you by surprise, you do not know what to expect
and your natural tendency will be to protect yourself. Any situation
where you involuntarily find yourself receiving feedback can be nerve
racking and uncomfortable. You probably feel much more comfortable when
someone else asks you how you feel about a certain situation. If you are
allowed to give feedback to yourself first, you might be able to soften
the impact of the other people's feedback giving weaknesses. Remember
that the goal of receiving and/or giving feedback is to help you or
another person to change, grow, solve a problem or achieve a goal.

MBO ( Motahida Bangash Organization )

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