Daring Greatly: Empathy

      8 Comments on Daring Greatly: Empathy

I’m still reading the third chapter of the book, Daring Greatly.

The fact that it is taking me long to read this particular chapter speaks for itself. It naturally would; the chapter is on Shame!

Ms Brown continues to talk about developing Shame Resilience. The term is very illuminating since Resilience refers to the ability to regain and bounce back. It doesn’t not mean the ability to shield, protect or armor-plate.

This means that there will be time you will fall into the hole where shame lives. Once in, you will surely be covered in the slime. There is no fool-proof way to avoid either of the two things. But there is no need to stay in the hole or to let the slime remain instead of washing it off as quickly as you can.

When you do wash it all off, you must remember that you are not the only one who fell into the hole. Everyone falls into it; everyone gets festooned in the rotten smelling slime. They all wash it off, sooner or later, leaving no residue behind. Nor do they become permanently flawed for having fallen into the hole. On the contrary, they become more courageous and compassionate after climbing out of the hole than they were when they fell into it.

What’s true for them, is certainly true for you too. Universal principle are applicable universally. That’s why they are universal.

With characteristic humility, Ms Brown recounts a personal shame story to demonstrate how she deals with shame. Her story reminded me of two incidents from my own under-grad days which have remained seared in my memory. As I read her story, I relived my own stories. That is why, this part of the chapter has become one of healing and learning for me.

A man had written her a nasty mail because she turned down a speaking engagement he had invited her to. Angry at his rudeness, she decided to forward the mail to her husband with her own angry words (and rude language) added to the mail as a note. The universe conspired , she hit reply instead of forward. Need I say more?

The first thing she did was not to let herself get sucked into what she calls a Shame Storm.

It seems that in times of intense pressure, our brain shuts down all other departments and sections and keeps only the primal center of fight-or-flight response open. That particular part is designed to help us survive in any way possible. Logic and rationality isn’t really its strong suit. Rationality and reasonableness, therefore, fly out of the window as soon as a Shame Storm hits. In other words, you become a crazy loon. That’s when you do (and say) bizarre things you would never do otherwise.

Storms don’t come to teach us painful lessons, rather they were meant to wash us clean.

~ Shannon L. Alder

One of the ways to break this runaway pattern is to force the brain to remain rational. Ms Brown does it by chanting the word pain over and over until the first wave of the storm is spent. It sounds weird to me but if she says it works for her, I’m more than willing to believe it… and try it myself.

Once the first throes of the storm are dealt with, a semblance of rationality returns. Second step is that she calls up someone to whom she can tell her Shame Story. She called up her husband and a close friend to tell them the story. By doing this, she reached out for the balm. That’s when I learned something vitally important.

Empathy comes from the Greek empatheia – em (into) and pathos (feeling) – a penetration, a kind of travel. It suggests you enter another person’s pain as you’d enter another country.

~ Leslie Jamison

To heal from a  Shame Storm, you desperately need someone to lay a soothing hand of empathy over your raw wound. You need someone to listen to your story without judgment… someone whose love and respect will not take a blow because you were less than your best self.  You need to hear someone say, “I know how that hole and that slime feels. I’ve been there too.”

Ever the rational analyst, I could never fully accept this need for having someone else supply the solace. “Why can’t you be strong enough to apply your own balm? Why can you not self-empathize instead of looking for someone else to heal you?” Ms Brown lays these questions of mine to rest.

To recover from a Shame Storm, self-empathy and compassion for self are vital. Unless you have them in place, you will not try to reach out to someone else. You would not think you were worthy enough. But that’s as far as they go. To heal, you need more.

The quickest way to bounce back is to talk to someone and tell them your Shame Story. According to Ms Brown (and this really makes sense), shame is a social wound which needs a social balm- which is empathy.  This is why you need another person to apply the salve.

This is the most enormous extension of vision of which life is capable: the projection of itself into other lives. This is the lonely, magnificent power of humanity. It is . . . the supreme epitome of the reaching out.

~ Loren Eiseley

What do you do if you have no one to tell your shame story to? You tell it to yourself- by writing it down. I am certain most bloggers will agree that there is nothing as healing and cathartic as writing of things that have deeply scarred you. I have read hundreds of posts in which the blogger has just opened a vein and let the blood flow. Many use fiction to tell their own stories. One way or the other, they let out the pain.

Writing about the trauma helps you externalize the event and the pain. The moment you write it down, you can look upon it as if it happened to someone else. That dilutes the pain and stops the bleeding. You are also able to feel compassion and empathy for that someone else whose story you read. Sadly, it is easier for us to be compassionate and loving to another, not to ourselves.

Our bodies have five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing. But not to be overlooked are the senses of our souls: intuition, peace, foresight, trust, empathy. The differences between people lie in their use of these senses; most people don’t know anything about the inner senses while a few people rely on them just as they rely on their physical senses, and in fact probably even more.

~C. JoyBell C.

The process of externalizing- whether you tell the story to someone else or to yourself- helps you to open yourself up and let the light in. Shame finds the light abhorrent. In the dark, shame looks like a huge, pervasive and unbeatable monster. In the sunshine of loving compassion and empathy, it looks as big as it actually is- minuscule.

Empathy is truly the most powerful of human endowments.

Daring Greatly- Empathy

Picture Mine: Rose Moss, the flower that symbolizes compassion

8 thoughts on “Daring Greatly: Empathy

  1. Vinay Leo R.

    I can definitely relate to the therapeutic power that words have, having been at the edge of a different cliff, yet bounced back through that. It’s like just talking, knowing someone somewhere will have been in the same position we find ourselves in. I don’t have a word that I repeat over and over. but I take up a book to read, and go away from reality for a while. Then talk about it when I’ve calmed down, to few friends who hear me out and give that balm. It’s not something that goes away by leaving it alone, I guess.

    Reply
    1. Dagny Post author

      Whether you chant a word, read a book, take a long walk away from reality or talk to someone… the point is to break the moment when we are descending into a terrible shame spiral. And you do that. We all have our own ways to arrest the downswing before it drowns us.

      Indeed it doesn’t go away by leaving it alone. I always liked to pretend that it did. Only when I read this section that I have realized that it doesn’t. And that it only begins to fester if you don’t deal with it.

      Reply
  2. umashankar

    I was answering your question you had asked me about shame when I’d said it is a process of healing. After the recognition, empathy can take you miles towards healing. The availability of empathy is not always possible, however. The question is, whether we are capable of self-healing?

    Reply
    1. Dagny Post author

      When empathy is unavailable from those close to you, you must supply your own empathy. Personally, I have found books an excellent source of empathy. Specially the one I quoted on FB last night… Atlas Shrugged. It gives me courage and solace always. It gives me clarity when I am confused. I can stand up again and start walking once more.

      Reply
  3. Beloo Mehra

    “shame is a social wound which needs a social balm- which is empathy. This is why you need another person to apply the salve.” – This is powerful! Need to think more about it though, perhaps by digging into some personal stories.

    Reply
    1. Dagny Post author

      I wonder what you will discover.. whether it will match with what Ms Brown says or not. I look forward to discussing this with you further. 😀

      Reply

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