Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

Empathy 2The following is a post I have had in drafts for nearly two years.  It seems to dovetail with some current realisations into empathy I have been having

I guess some would call it empathy. The capacity to wonder or imagine what it might be like to live inside someone else’s skin or walk in their shoes. Not to try and impose or transplant our own experience, values and even limitations on others but to open our heart and mind to how things or experiences may feel for them, operating from their level of consciousness.

Perhaps we are all guilty of lacking insight or empathy at times. Most certainly we cannot know always fully know what another person has endured. And at times we can be so invested or caught up in our own particular experience that we are not available for others or our own opinions limit our ability to keep an open mind.

I have been contemplating this issue after a recent visit to my therapist in which I haveexplored the past pain of four separate relationships in which my heart was broken. For years I have been carrying much pain and hurt and at times I would lash out. People who did not know what I had endured were quick to judge. But they lacked the capacity to see inside my heart. And I lacked the capacity for a long time to be able to communicate the truth of my heartache and pain in ways which were not raw and so frightening to others.

The last relationship which I had was to a partner who found sadness difficult to tolerate. I have experienced a lot of trauma and loss in my life, from my late teens on. It left deep scars many of which I brought into this relationship with someone who had big areas of wounding too, but nevertheless big walls of anger and defence around this tender spot.

Much happened in my early 20s which I was not able to integrate or process. I stuffed a lot of my feelings, felt scared of being vulnerable, did not have words for the suffering, had not, at least until about 10 years ago been able to engage with past suffering in a way that was workable for me. As a result I acted out with alcohol until my early 30s at which time I found recovery, stopped drinking and taking drugs and began a second attempt at therapy which failed.

Over the past seven months I have been revisiting a lot of my pain, having found a wonderful therapist with whom to explore it. With her I am now exploring the very many times of tearing or rupture which left breaks in the continuum of my life. By having the opportunity to explore how the continuity of my development got broken or torn leaving gaps, spaces and dangling threads I am in some way now engaged in a weaving process.

My therapist explained it yesterday by drawing a picture of the broken lines and showing how the breaks, in being explored in therapy are now being connected in some way. The drawing was like a lattice picture of a tapestry of lines with different colours with huge spaces in between underscored by other lines.

I cried very deeply as she sat by my side drawing yesterday. I had driven to the appointment crying a lot while listening to the John Mayer song I wrote a blog about this time last week. It felt like this grief I experienced yesterday was grief over several heartaches going over years that had been buried down so deep and that yesterday my tears were fashioning a deep pool within which I became the deep sea diver to my own soul. And last night I spiralled very deeply down within sleep to a place of rest which has been illusive for years.

Today I had a very healing day. I spent it with my Mum. Over the past year or so I have been exploring a lot of anger and past pain with my Mum. Today I saw revealed in my mother a very vulnerable heart which she opened to me. This vulnerability came out as lately I have been able to share with her about my own deep vulnerability and hurt and somehow have it seen and understood.

Today I read a reading on Reversing Roles it was about walking in another shoes in order to imagine what it may be like to live from within them, not to get lost in their pain fully but to make a visit which then enables me to explore the dynamic of our relationship from a different perspective.

Yesterday I was sharing with my therapist how this was not possible in the relationship I had with my last partner who had narcissistic issues, due to him erecting large no go area signs around certain emotions, most particularly vulnerability and sadness. Knowing the capacity for him to imagine and wonder how it might be for me was limited gives me a deeper understanding into why our relationships did not work. And I could not explain to him with words in the way I might be able to now, knowing my interior world just a little more.

At the end of our relationship I was blamed, as I had been in two other relationships for angry responses to very real limitations on behalf of past partners that wounded me deeply. Only in one of my heartbreak endings did the person who left claim his own incapacity to really love someone he saw as infinitely loveable, despite her very real scars.

I cannot begin to tell you how much healing is coming out of all of this for me and for the relationship with my Mum who in seeing me become vulnerable has allowed herself to become vulnerable too. Today I held her aging hand in mine. I truly felt her deep suffering. For a time I saw life from her perspective.

I also saw how my own defences and anger though justified had created problems too. I felt that the walls had tumbled down. It was a beautiful and profoundly bittersweet moment. One I will cherish in all the years to come.

Empathy 4.jpg

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