Keeping HopeAlive/Working the Steps: Step 9, Part 2

And to get to that level of regret requires empathy for the other person.

To make amends in such a way that healing can take place means that I must be brave enough to move beyond acknowledging not only that I did the hurtful deed, but that I understand how that affected the other person.

To have empathy means that I can feel with another person, but not for him.   “I hate this for you,” my spiritual director said to me at one time.  “I wish this had never happened.”   And in those simple words, he acknowledged that he understood the depth of hurt I had experienced.  With those words, he communicated, “I am walking with you on this hard path.”

As a codependent and an empath, I’ve had to work for a lifetime to differentiate between what I am feeling and the feelings of another person.  Too easily I have taken on another’s bad moods, fears, sorrow and anger, and part of my painful growth has been to recognize that just because I pick up, carry and even express or act out others’ feelings like catching their colds, that is not really authentic love.   It is feeling with another person and caring for another person in a way that benefits the other person is the point, right?

Empathy means that I have to get over myself enough to imagine what it must feel like for that person to have been hurt by what I did.

Empathy means that I have to honor the boundaries of my life and the other’s life enough to imagine why what I did has done harm to another.

Empathy requires me to understand from a child’s point of view, perhaps, how my decisions changed that child’s life from the child’s point of view.

Empathy requires me to stop my cajoling and re-writing the script, looking on the bright side and asking my child to agree with my cheery attitude long enough to understand the child’s point of view.  Allowing a child or anyone else to have his own feelings about a situation means that I don’t get to talk the person out of her feelings just so I will feel better.

And why is it that empathy comes so hard for us?

Perhaps empathy is hard because once we feel with another person, we become afraid we will be pulled into a deeper well of grief or guilt, shame or self-loathing.

Perhaps empathy is hard because we think that if we feel with another person’s sorrow, we might have to do something we don’t want to do.  Indeed, we may feel powerless before the gravity or the size of another person’s feelings, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to do something right then to make the other person feel better.  Or perhaps if we feel with that person, we may be swallowed up in guilt for what we did.

My dad told a story about a little girl whose friend had lost her mother.  In telling her own mother about the day the child returned to school, the mother asked her daughter how Susie did on her first day back.

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