What is Empathic Connection?

Going through uncomfortable situations as an observer is what I have done for 30 years–on purpose. As a therapist it is what you do. Going through emotions with someone is not always easy, but if you’ve sorted through enough of your own emotional baggage it can be done without losing objectivity or too much wrenching of the heart.

However when you are a bystander who is emotionally connected it is another story. Especially when you are powerless.

I was thinking and feeling this the other morning; I felt like I was getting sick. I worry a lot about the effects of shame, my own early years were riddled with it. It can undo everything good a child feels or believes about himself–cripple you for life. So I went back to bed and muddled around in feelings until I turned to God.

He reminded me that He has nothing perfect to wotk with here and He still brings people through this alley of suffering intact. Then He turned my mind to empathic connection. Researcher Brene Brown says it is the one place shame can’t survive. But what is empathic connection?

I think it is mostly listening and validating feelings, and then redirecting. But how does one get to that when people aren’t coming to you? I’ve always had that advantage. Well, not always; I was (am) a step parent, with just enough experience to know how hard it is.

Now I’ve been watching my daughter with her own four boys. She never used to yell. But now that she is “more real instead of trying to be perfect,” she is yelling a lot. I get to stay with my four grandsons aged 13-3 while she is having her first daughter. Last time she had a baby I stayed with the three and I yelled.

Then a year ago I baby sat for a couple of hours with all four, and this time I was determined not to yell, but to act. Of course they tested me and I think it actually was worse. (My opinion; and being in the middle of it, I could be wrong. They still love me.)

I’ve written about shame before, but in case you missed that, shame is the feeling that you are not good enough. It is communicated easily through tones or looks of judgment or disgust.

I’m apparently very good at both when I’m being “real,” having inherited it. I’ve been horrified to learn it and I hate it. So I’m a little uneasy going into this task which I wouldn’t think of refusing.

A lot of parents have been afraid and opted to skip discipline in favor of empathic connection. But that isn’t good either. Children with no boundaries grow up insecure or with little concept of reality, and are poorly prepared for life.

It seemed like New Years Eve was a good time to do a little soul-searching and vulnerable sharing. I’ll let you know how my dilemma turns out.



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