What is Self-Empathy?

I am happy to share a technique, self-empathy, which provides a way to support emotional well-being.

What is Self-Empathy?

When you think of empathy, you probably think of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, imagining what their life is like. Empathy is about connecting with what it’s like to be someone else. In order to empathize with someone, you need to pay attention to them and really listen to them. Self-empathy is similar, but it’s about really listening to yourself. It’s about connecting with what’s alive in you, turning your attention inward to see what is going on for you. Self-empathy is particularly helpful when you’re experiencing some sort of emotional discomfort. It is a way to stay connected with yourself when your tendency is to avoid or distract.

Some background about Self-Empathy

Empathy is a key term in a modality called Compassionate Communication (CC), and it can be translated as, “What is most alive in this moment?” or “What is the heart of the matter?”  In CC, the focus is on feelings and needs, and a key assumption is that all humans have the same universal needs. These include connection, well-being, honesty, play, peace, meaning, and autonomy, among many others. We feel certain emotions when our needs are met, and other emotions when our needs are not met. Feelings, then, are pointers to our precious human needs.

Practicing Self-Empathy

Self-empathy can help in cultivating inner peace and self-compassion. The practice of self-empathy involves being present with yourself and turning your attention inward by asking yourself four questions:

What am I observing?
What am I feeling?
What am I needing right now?
Do I have a request of myself or someone else?

For instance, you may find yourself berating yourself for spending too much time on the internet. Next time you notice yourself beating yourself up or even subtly judging or criticizing yourself, try this instead:

1) Observation: Identify what you are saying to yourself. What thought are you having about yourself? e.g. When I tell myself: I’m wasting so much time.

2) Feeling: Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” e.g.  I feel concerned.

3) Need: Connect that feeling to a need/value and ask, “What need is not met?” e.g. I have a need for balance.

3a) Give yourself a moment or two to “sit with” that need and how important it (e.g. balance) is to you.

4) Request: After “sitting with” that need for balance, do you have any request of yourself or someone else? E.g. Am I willing to breathe mindfully for three breaths before going onto the next website?

Isn’t that a much kinder way of responding to yourself than telling yourself what a hopeless internet junkie you are and how you’re never going to get anything accomplished?  You can take this a step further by asking yourself what needs are met by your internet usage (e.g. connection, learning, ease). The idea in CC is that all behaviors are strategies to meet needs, so you can trace any behavior you tend to beat yourself up about to a need that you’re attempting to meet.

This process will help you direct your attention downward from the head (where the negative thinking resides), down into the heart (where the feelings reside), and into the belly (where the precious needs reside). In this way, self-empathy is another tool for helping you get out of your head and into your heart and body.

With Appreciation, John

John Brewer About John Brewer

John has been studying and practicing qigong for eight years and teaching for the past three. He has been trained in, and will draw from, two systems: Wisdom Healing Qigong with Master Mingtong Gu, and Integral Qigong with Roger Jahnke.
John is a lifelong educator, versed in making learning effective and fun. He creates a safe, engaging environment through his practice of compassionate communication and empathy. He is also a poetry-lover, and enjoys spreading the qi through verse.

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