Happiness and contentment has more of a chance to grow when we are responded to with empathy. Realistically in a world which contains all kinds of people we cannot expect such empathy as a given. I was thinking earlier of a reading from one of the daily recovery readers I own which speaks of expectations as a premediated resentment. What the quote is getting at is that when we unrealistically expect empathy or some response from someone incapable of giving it, that failure to accept (the painful) reality can lead to resentment.
I have a brother who is incapable of emotional responses to suffering. He also NEVER turns up on time. He will call my Mum really early in the morning and she will crack the whip on herself to get ready only to be left waiting for up to an hour. One day (Mother`s Day many years ago) he actually failed to turn up. I had to hand it to my sister the last time he called us all together. She arrived an hour later than the time he said he would be there, she just pleased herself. That was sensible behaviour where my brother is concerned as expecting him to be on time is just not realistic.
I don`t want this to turn into a criticism blog about my brother but what I am trying to get at is that its painful to set ourselves up to be hurt by others failure to respect us or show empathy. We may need to be on the receiving end of hurt many times before we finally get the lesson that what we need from this person is never going to be forthcoming. We can respect that they are only human and doing their best. In the end we all have different thresholds of tolerance for this kind of thing. If we have been neglected or kept waiting or wounded by others misattention or misattunement, such things can trigger us to age regress back to an earlier time of hurt that we then feel with full force. We then have to process this.
I had just such an incident with my gardener the other day. I got up early waiting for him to show at the allocated time, a while later, no gardener. This kind of being kept waiting scenario is a big trigger for me. I noticed my anxiety level rising and my head searching for reasons he was late. I then did the sensible thing. I called him to find out what was happening. Turns out his children were playing up and he had a school commitment they hadnt told him about so he was running last but neglected to call. I nippped things in the bud, prevented myself regressing into anxiety then got on with another task until he arrived. I recognised my abandonment schema had been triggered too, so I practicee self soothing. Later we talked in through and I explained my trigger to him.
A year ago I decided to stop meeting a friend who always kept me waiting. The final straw was when she cancelled just after she had sent a text to say she was leaving home to be here for a morning tea I went to a lot of effort to make. It retriggered a lot of pain but also anger at myself too because throughout the past three years she had been consistently late to each and every meeting we had agreed to. I hadn’t set a boundaries until a big upset when she was late to take me to an oncology appointment. She was defensive and upset then and the behaviour didn’t change. I do miss elements of our friendship and I didn`t throw her out entirely. I just chose to limit contact as each meeting would amp up my anxiety. I still keep in touch though our communciation has lessened in the last six months.
I seem to have got a little diverted off topic in the course of writing this post. What initiated it was the idea I wanted to communicate that when we are responded to in grief or any other emotional difficulty with empathy and consistent loving support, the chance for happiness to grow increases.
It is shown by recent research that being met with empathy actually increases the production of positive neurotransmitters such as oxytocin (the love hormone) while being hurt, invalidated, or criticised lights up a different site in the brain and leads to higher levels of cortisol. I just started to read Christine Neff`s book on Self Compassion this week and in it she quotes this reasearch that had been referred to in other books I have read recently.
The bad news is that insecurely attached people who learned they could never consistently rely on others or were shown abuse, neglect or lack of empathy are more likely not to be able to show themselves self compassion and attract those who won`t either. Positive effects can come for them later in life though if they can find a therapist or friend who will listen with empathy and validate their experiences. Most certainly we don`t always need to be surrounded by yes people, but if we have had attachment issues or difficulties in the past it is essential we find those who can respond to us in empathy with consistency in order that our neurotransmitters can be altered. In the long run this kind of support helps us more than any drug will. We can also learn to show ourselves this kind of care.
I believe that some kind of inner peace and happiness can grow out of our grief or other wounds if we are shown empathy in the midst of them and helped to process and understand them.
If you have significant grief, abandonment or trauma in your life or inconsistent attachments it is essential you find one person you can unburden yourself with, a person who is consistent and reliable. On line support groups and some blogs can most definately help in ths way if you are isolated but ideally its good to be able to connect face to face as our bodies respond to each other when present through mirror neurons. We who have been wounded, damaged or traumatised so badly need this kind of support to find some happiness inside the sadnesses that can beseige us from that painful past of neglect, loss or trauma.