One of the hardest things for all of us is communicating our feelings without blaming the other party for “making” us feel a certain way. Yet this is one of the most important parts of empathy. As someone trying to practice empathy we are not just going to let others walk all over us. We should not give up our own power and feelings just to make someone else feel good. That is not a win – win.
Finding a respectful way of expressing our feelings is key to maintaining this balance. One way of achieving this is to use “I” messages. Now we have all heard this before but putting this into practice whether as an adult or a child is difficult without taking our time to respond.
One suggestion that is key to expressing ourselves respectfully is to take 3 breaths prior to speaking. Consider quickly how the other person is feeling or what the situation is that created the feelings of the other person. Once we have done that the message we deliver should be on the lines of “I feel hurt when you speak to me in that manner.”
Now having the correct feeling in our mind may be the hard part and we may need to take note of what we are really feeling and why. So as we teach our children how to use “I feel statements’, we need to teach them feeling words. This will give them the vocabulary to use and not just use one or two feelings for everything. They should learn words like angry, frustrated, disappointed, happy, proud, left out, hurt, and how to use them.
Finally as parents we want to model this when we are talking about other adults, situations at work and especially when we are disciplining our children. These are teaching moments. Remember, our children learn more about how to handle things from what we do that from what we tell them to do.
While it is important to figure out by looking at someone or a situation what someone is feeling, it is just as important to predict how someone may feel if you speak or if you act in a certain way. When we are able to predict how someone may feel given a set of circumstances, we can gauge how and what we may say or do.
This is an important social skill that we can teach our children by playing a game with them or by just simple conversation. We may ask them, “Lauren just moved and will be going to a new school tomorrow. How do you think she will feel?” We can make up other scenarios that may be applicable to our own children that would be good for them to consider the feelings of others.
When we take children out of the scenario, their own emotions about the situation do not get involved and they can express clearly what may happen. When the time is appropriate you can compare it to a situation that they are in and it will be easier for them to understand how they may respond with more empathy.
When we are in the middle of a situation, especially if there are emotions involved, it can be very difficult to be empathetic. Practicing predicting the feelings of others can be helpful for all of us, child or adult.
Have you ever known someone who is constantly complaining? I have and depending on our own relationship with them it may have various immediate impact on us. If it someone we are in love with, then we have a tendency to overlook it for a great deal of time. If it is someone that we are neutral about then it may wear on us to the point that we do not enjoy being around them.
But we are influenced by the people we hang out with and when we have someone around us who always dwells on the negative side of things we can lose our appreciation for what is good. As we live in this country we are indeed very fortunate. The families we have, the schools we attend, the cultural events around us, all of these add to the quality of our life.
But focus is a very funny thing. If you are an adult, have you ever been driving down the road and started to look at something in a field to your right or left and found yourself drifting in that direction, only to have to pull yourself back quickly?
This can happen to us in how we think too. If we show appreciation and focus on the good in our lives we will feel better emotionally and we will accomplish more in our daily life. Here is one way to do this with your family. When you come home and ask everyone in your family what they are thankful for about themselves, others, things, whatever and how do they show appreciation for that gift. You may be surprised by what they say and it may be silly at first, but the habit of speaking the words out loud will affect the evening and your personal feelings.
Try this and let me know how it affects you. As an individual you may want to keep a gratitude journal. Write down 5 things everyday that you appreciate – then review it if you are feeling a bit down.
We are not always going to feel confident. We are not always going to be sure that we can reach the goals we have set for ourselves and then when we have a set back we need to recheck our attitude again to be sure we are not talking to ourselves in that grumpy voice, saying something like – You can’t do this.
It may be a test, meeting new people, a new sport, or something that we have failed at before that challenges our confidence. It is at that time that we may need to talk to a friend or adult just to be sure we are thinking in the correct manner. It is highly unlikely that a friend or adult is going to tell us, “just give up – you can’t do that.” Just like we would be thee for them they will be there for us. Our job is not to give up and to look for ways to adjust and achieve our goals.