Often as parents, we believe that empathizing with our children helps them feel like we “get it.”
We do our best to put ourselves in their shoes, and we begin to identify with the problem at hand. Maybe we have gone through something similar or we can feel what they are feeling just by looking at the expression on their face.
What is empathy?
Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner
There is definitely a time and place for empathy in parenting, and as your child grows into a tween, teen, and young adult, I think you will find compassion more helpful to both of you.
You see, empathy lends itself to identifying with the problem or feeling.
For many, that can bring up similar feelings to when you dealt with a comparable issue and we run the risk of projecting our feelings onto our teen. We run the risk of the teen feeling like this is no longer their issue but something they must calm their parent about. They may start to downplay their feelings because mom or dad is getting overly worked up about it. Often the parent gets more worked up than the teen and that amplifies the original issue.
Leading with compassion may help your teen get through a tough time a little easier.
Try a little compassion instead.
Compassion is the willingness to bear witness to their feelings.
What a gift.
We don’t need to identify with the problem, we can witness how it must feel to be going through whatever they are currently enduring.
Hearing their distress in a way that we can be fully open to the emotion without feeling it ourselves.
Compassion and empathy both refer to a caring response to someone else’s distress. While empathy refers to an active sharing in the emotional experience of the other person, compassion adds to that emotional experience a desire to alleviate the person’s distress.
Compassion opens us up to being fully present for our teen in a Self led way.
Empathy is more “feeling with”…..which can be heavy for your teen to carry.
Empathy can keep your teen amped up about the issue, thus rooting them in fight.
Compassion doesn’t hand your teen more. It simply notes that the feeling they are having is distressful, and you are here to hold it and witness it with them.
We aren’t scared of the feeling and we don’t need to fight the feeling.
Compassion doesn’t solve problems, but it brings comfort.
We want to help them move into flow, which doesn’t always mean solving their problem but bearing witness to the feelings that are arising during the problem.
Just holding it with them. Not identifying with it. Not telling a story from when something similar happened to you. Not looking for a villain in the story. Not matching their anger or fear.
Just a compassionate witness.
That’s the way we move from fight to flow.
That’s our job as parents.
A guide for how to move through problems, not against them.
This was a contributed post by Kerry Foreman, a registered psychotherapist and mental wellness coach.
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