In our previous articles, we introduced you to what self-empathy is (here) and the importance of noticing that which takes place within your own experience (here). We showed how noticing with self-empathy brings both, insight into your own mental reactions and habits as well as the possibility to consciously act and react in the world surrounding you. Yet in order to do so, one needs to have the courage to explore, which requires us to contract ethical responsibility.
Ethical exploration and agreement
Working with others to provide an encouraging presence or a healing space requires providing a conducive environment for the person you are working with or caring for. This helps them to get in touch with themselves and how they think, feel and do things. Equally, transforming yourself in response to the person you are working with requires creating a space conducive for you to explore more about yourself. This too, is self-empathy. You are encouraged to be in touch with your experiences and this includes how you think, feel and do things in your work context.
To be able to be in touch with these aspects, it is important that you explore ethical responsibility. You commit yourself to be true to any insights about your own thoughts, feelings and actions you might become aware of. You bring clarity and space to your inner experienced world. It is a form of respectful inner listening, with a readiness to take seriously whatever signals arise internally. It opens you up, yet you are not swept along by the experience itself as when you feel overtaken by an emotion. You also do not look for ways to change what you experience in any direction, you only observe and sense what really takes place.
‘Whilst working on a recent project, John became withdrawn and no longer contributed in discussions related to the project he was managing. John’s client, Jennifer, had pointed out, in a sharp tone, shortcomings in his contributions. He felt criticized, did not want to expose himself to further humiliation and reacted by holding back on voicing any further contributions’.
When John felt criticized by Jennifer, the experience was overwhelming and he was swept along by it. Yet, he was not aware of the experience in himself. His attention remained on Jennifer. He thought that she was unreasonable in her demands. And that she had an attacking personality. He wasn’t aware of his own thoughts, feelings or indeed actions in response to Jennifer. He hadn’t practised self-empathy. and consequently he wasn’t able to empathize with her.
To begin the process of finding the inner resources to be adequately available to another person, we need to find a quiet, inner space with which to land. It requires first carving an introspective, reflective space for yourself. This can be done by taking ownership with your mind of the whole of the space inhabited by your body. One possible way is to close your eyes, and scan with awareness through each area of the body, an exercise called the ‘body scan’ in mindfulness practices. As soon as you turn inward into your current bodily presence, you will most likely notice that your bodily experiences have a story to tell. There might be tension, fatigue, nervousness or calm, or there might be something else. Every mental state has a bodily expression.
The mind and the body interact with each other, just as a hand fits into a glove, and the glove holds the image of the hand. By being more aware of the shape or gesture of your body, you will be more aware of the state of your mind, and at the same time create space within your body for more awareness with your mind. Following centring practice, you may notice an area of your body where there is intense sensation. You can focus on this sensation by giving it a shape or gesture represented with your hands. You can intensify the shape with your hands or your body until it matches the sensation. You can give a meaningful name with a few descriptive words. Doing this helps you to hold a space for yourself and your experiences and sensations and yet not be enslaved to what these sensations demand of you. You literally create the space to open yourself up to a world beyond your own consciousness.
In the coming articles we will look at the role of suspending judgment in self-empathy, how to set personal intentions and attend to oneself and how self-empathy serves as a tool to empathize with others.
Along the way, we invite you to comment, ask questions and think along. Does this make sense? Is it recognizable and helpful? Is it clear? Or would you need further explanation? Do you have an opinion yourself you would like to share, or maybe a situation you’d like to discuss? We welcome dialogue that builds each other up!