The importance of empathy in healing past hurt and anger.

I love it when I get guidance to go somewhere, often to a bookshop or a library and the book I just need to read turns up for me.  It happened last week that I got that message on a brief window of time before my Thursday therapy appointment and came across Arthur C. Ciaramicoli’s book, The Stress Solution : Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience.   Personally I have never been a huge fan of CBT as I believed it encouraged sufferers to over-ride injury or deep issues of hurt with mental directions to reframe thinking that may be justified and bypassed the deeper feeling work that needs to accompany true healing.  This book provides the missing link in helping to show how old hurt that cannot be felt, understood, empathised with, expressed and resolved then warps our ability to think, interpret and trust clearly exiling us to a wasteland of anger, resentment and depression as a result.

I posted a poem yesterday on the sorry that my own mother has never really been able to say to me.  I have shared that my mother showed empathy for her own mother’s situation to the point she could never ‘blame’ her for hitting my mother and driving her so hard as a child.  This failure on her part to say sorry and to act wounded and upset when I try to point old hurts out had been a sticking place for me in the past and I have needed outside validation of therapy to help me face and address the painful state my own unresolved hurt, sadness and pain has left me in for years.   But now that I am facing having to have my front tooth removed tomorrow my mother is in an acute state of distress.  She sees how I have suffered and all the onslaughts my body has been through as a result of my childhood and the trauma of those years of accident, illness and loss and she feels bad.  But is still not able to say sorry about her part in it, only that she is sorry I have suffered.

A comment from a reader today made me think about how important sorry and empathy really are to healing our hurt, anger and distress and its the exact point that Ciaramicoli makes in his book.  Anger which goes around and around affects our neurochemistry and then can lead to all sorts of body issues later in life, including heart attacks and strokes.  I also believe it can be behind the development of many auto immune diseases.

If we were hurt in childhood we need to understand the nature of those hurts and not carry the anger on where it can poison other later relationships with fear, insecurity and mistrust, but our hurt needs to be expressed with someone who can validate it for us.   I made this point in a blog last week.  I mentioned how trauma expert Peter Levine has showed that if, when faced with a traumatic situation we have one person who can calm us and show empathy we are less likely to develop long term Post Traumatic Stress.  Empathy is the key that can then help us to rewire the mental negative thought forms of mistrust that accompany a childhood of loss, trauma, pain, invalidation or hurt blocking us from love and empathy in the present and future.

I highly recommend the Ciaramacoli’s book and below is an extract from it that I found extremely helpful to my own emerging understanding.  I am sharing it in the hope it will help others too:

When hurts accumulate without a positive resolution, we often lose ourselves in self absorption and resentment.  This kind of preoccupation is a tremendous drain on mental energy, leaving us with little capacity for interest in others.  Anger can turn to tolerance, however, when our perceptions change from fear to truth.   When we stop seeing others through the hurts of the past, when generalisations cease and we begin to perceive more objectively, we become more hopeful and optimistic.  We feel closer to people in our lives as we recover trust.   Trust is often correlated with happiness in communities or individuals.  When we trust others, we feel safe and calm.  We can then perceive more accurately and thoughtfully.  What we feel inside determines what we feel outside.

Once a person….harbours unresolved hurts, her anger and sense of helplessness can dramatically change the way (they) think and behave…. even a trauma survivor can return to a state of calm through meaningful contact with an empathic, understanding individual.  Such relationships make us more reflective and enable us to embark on a journey to learn what has troubled us, how to resolve our hurts, and how to move on.

Sadness is often seen as synonymous with depression.  Depression is often, in fact, an attempt to avoid the sadness.  Sadness is the body’s cue to stop, think, and work through what is troubling us.  People who don’t head this cue avoid examining their troubles, and the stress caused by avoidance becomes a way of life.  In essence, depression is often an avoidance of using the information sadness can provide.

We cannot resolve our thoughts alone.  Without input from others, we repeat our thought patterns over and over again and remain stuck in the mire of our own negativity.  This is a formula for continual stress.  By releasing ourselves from the mistaken beliefs that support our uneasiness with people, however, we reawaken our basic goodness and allow love and compassion to break through.  Our empathic breakthrough then removes the obstacles to seeing our world and ourselves clearly.  If (we) allow (ourselves) to be open and vulnerable, to share (our) hurts with others and accept empathic feedback – a courageous step for sure – (we) might ….(be) able to recover the spirit for living (we) once possessed…..holding onto anger and resentment ties us to the past and the story we created when emotionally distraught.

I would like to say here though, something he does not address and that is, it is no point sharing our feelings or vulnerability with those who will not validate them.  It is essential to this process that we choose someone who can validate that our pain and hurt at the time was real.   If we don’t get help to see how we were affected in a negative way we cannot fully address the sense of injury that occurred when we had to face such difficult and ultimately alienating experiences of abandonment or trauma alone, feeling our hurt, grieving for it and then allowing the outflow of that feeling to be shed and released is so important and we need validation and lots of loving affirmative support with this.

And then there comes a point where we have to make the conscious choice to open our heart and let the pain out, rather than close it tight shut again, locking it all back inside, running the endless negative, repeat, feedback button over and over and over again, which only ends up hurting us.   If we suffered abuse in the past we can let our anger be an informative guide of what may not be safe for us, ie, person’s lacking in empathy who lack the capacity through emotional insight to help us release and validate our pain.  For it is these people who trigger our stress response.  Recognising this requires we show empathy for ourselves and our healthy emotional boundaries and honour them.

8 thoughts on “The importance of empathy in healing past hurt and anger.

      1. I get it. When someone tells another person that they are upset, a lot of times the listener wants to fix it, tell them not to feel bad, they shouldn’t feel bad, they’re over reacting, or being a hypocrite, etc. And that’s not helpful at all. We already see on our own, with time, what we need to realize. We need others to be there to help us process it for ourselves.

  1. So many truths here! That echoes what my journey has been as well. I also like what you said about using anger as a guide. That’s been my experience – understanding that I didn’t need to let go of the anger, I needed to learn to process it in a healthy way.

    I was recently able to let go of a friendship that was really not healthy for me, and the fact that the ex-friend kept making me angry allowed me to sit back and parse through why I was getting angry with her. Then I realized…okay, it’s because I’m seeing abuse patterns, she’s doing things that feel extremely manipulative, I don’t like the way she treats others. That made it easier to walk away.

  2. Exactly. ..i went through something very similar and as a child I didnt learn anger was a message..I was told anger was wrong or bad. That leaves a young child with no protection at all. I am so glad you were able to take those steps of self care. I’m sure you felt so much better after lustening to your feelings. Love Deborah x

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