Authenticity in Love & Life
A Blog by Elaine Barron, LCSW
A few years ago, Clay Scroggins, brought a message at North Point Community Church entitled "The Empathy Lens" as part of a series called "Bad Blood". He referenced Romans 12: 18--"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” He talked about how a professional golfer not only analyzes a putt from the putter’s side of the hole but also gets the perspective from the other side of the hole. Likewise, when making peace in a relational conflict, it is imperative to view the conflict from the other person’s side. Clay referred to Brene Brown’s TED talk in which she listed the following four qualities of empathy: 1. Taking on the other’s perspective as truth 2. Suspending your judgment 3. Recognizing their emotion 4. Communicating that emotion
When thinking through these four qualities of empathy, I can see why empathy, especially in conflict, is more easily said than done.
The first quality: Taking on the other’s perspective as truth. We tend to believe we are the holders of truth and the thought that the other person might be the holder of truth goes against our grain. The idea, though, is that the other person’s perspective is very much truth to them and that it makes sense to them because of who they are and their experiences. Empathy goes much deeper than agreeing that their perspective is their truth—it involves understanding their personhood, their experiences, and how they’ve reached the conclusions they’ve reached. That kind of empathy takes a lot of investment.
The second quality: Suspending your judgment. “If that was me, I would have done _______________________ . ” But they are not us, and cannot be expected to behave based on our personal judgment, which is made up of our emotions, personality factors, intellect, and experiences. When we judge another, we put our self in a superior position, which is not conducive to building a connected relationship.
Quality number three: Recognizing their emotion. In order to recognize an emotion, one has to have experienced that emotion themselves. I may not have had that emotion in response to a similar circumstance, but I need to be able to identify with the emotion. Perhaps it’s an emotion like “helplessness”—I know what it’s like to be out of control. Maybe I chose not to respond to the emotion through escape through an addictive behavior the way they did , but if I understand what they’ve been through, I can understand why they made their choices. Understanding is neither condoning or agreeing.
Quality number four: Communicating that emotion. When the sender’s emotions are felt by a receiver and identified correctly and empathically verbalized, an emotional bridge is built between the individuals which is much stronger any intellectual exchange ever will be. This requires sensitivity, time, and a choice to emotionally respond rather than react.
Elaine Barron is a psychotherapist in Alpharetta, Georgia who is also a Christ follower. She has experienced much in her life that was necessarily the way she would have chosen, but sees those struggles as opportunities for growth and healing, desiring to share with others what she has learned "so far".