Category Archives: Emotion

How to Help Others to Give you What you Want (Showing Empathy)

We’ve all been there: a loved one or a partner is in high emotion, maybe attacking us, or withdrawing. We want connection and healing, but don’t know how to do so without making things worse.

This is where the magical tool of empathy comes into play.

Empathy is:

The process of validating someone else’s feelings and experience as legitimate.

The best chance you have of getting someone on your side, to understand how you feel, and support you in getting what you want is to first do that with them. It’s the essence of the Golden Rule.

However, when we are frustrated or upset with someone, the last thing we want to do is to validate their perspective, experience, and emotions.

Empathy is one of the greatest and most challenging relational and spiritual skills, for that reason.

This is my empathy breakthrough story.

I had a girlfriend, and I did some things while we were apart that she labeled as betrayal. But, we had a weekend workshop planned together and so she picked me up from the airport anyway.

To start our 4 hour drive, she began with what a horrible man and boyfriend I was. How selfish I was. Ungrateful. Unkind.  Stupid. You get the drift.

Instead of defending myself, attacking back, or retreating, which were my usual patterns, I decided to try something else. I had been studying nonviolent communication intensely for about 7 months by this time.

I said:

“It sounds like you are feeling really angry because you needed some security?”

“Damn right! And you go and did that and then I think you’ll leave and it drives me crazy!”

“I guess you were afraid as well because you needed security?”

“Of course I do! But really I just wanna cry when I think about it because I know you don’t care for me at all just like all the rest of the men in my life.”

“I imagine you might be feeling sad because you need love and you aren’t getting it?”

“Yes! And it’s your fault because I expected this to be different. Just pisses me off.”

“Sounds like you are angry because you need reliability?”

“No, it’s more that I’m sad because I hate this stupid pattern.”

The conversation continued like that for four hours. She would say something that sounded like an attack to anyone who would have been listening, and I rephrased it in terms of her feelings and unmet needs.

We spoke of all sorts of issues that went back to her childhood and had little to do with me. In fact, usually our upset has nothing to do with the person in front of us. They are a convenient context and safe valve to express the emotional pain that has been festering in us for decades. Our partner provides one small stimulus that triggers all of the past emotion.

Because they are in front of us and we feel something, we often blame them for our feelings. But they aren’t the problem. Which is why we say:

“The Feel is Real, but the Why is a Lie.”

Although it took hours to do this, by the time we arrived at our workshop she was perfectly happy and content. We felt connected and she felt understood. It was as if nothing had ever happened between us, and we had an enjoyable, pleasurable weekend together.

That was when I understood how powerful empathy can be.

During that experience, I never admitted that I was wrong or bad. I never had to take blame. I never had to experience shame. I never felt any guilt. I was simply curious, and reflecting her experience back to her. It was like talking to a mirror. And that was healing for her.

Every time I validated her expression, emotion, and experience it took another layer off the onion of all the emotions and pain she was carrying.

When people act violently toward us, they are just “tragically expressing an unmet need”.

This is the best formula I have found for expressing empathy:

  1. Translate whatever you hear into a feeling and need. It doesn’t matter what they say or how much they want to blame, shame, guilt, threaten, or punish you. You don’t make anyone feel anything ever. Don’t take that responsibility on. Instead:
  2. “Guess” both the feeling and the need back to them:

    “I imagine/guess/wonder if you are feeling x [some variation of mad, glad, sad, afraid] because [human need] isn’t being met.”

    In other words, you don’t tell them how they feel. You are asking a question and might be wrong. That’s ok. The fact that you tried shows that you care about their world, experience, and emotion. They will correct you if you get the feeling or need wrong. And then you both will know.
  3. Rinse and repeat, no matter what comes back.

This is a fairly simple process to describe.

It can be an incredibly challenging thing to do, in the heat of emotion, when you are both ‘triggered’. In fact, it may be wise to take space to give yourself some empathy (by doing this with yourself!) before attempting this process with another.

However, learning this process gives you much greater chances of getting your needs met by others than anything else I have found.

And, after the emotion has dissipated (you will notice a relaxation in their energy once they run out of emotional content), you can talk to them about what you want with a much higher chance of them listening and being agreeable to you, because you have listened to and shown empathy to them.


Do you want my personal support with improving the quality of your relating and the results you get in your relationships? Join my 1:1 mentoring program. More information here.

Overcoming Fear

We just got done with Christmas. In the Bible, the story is told of ‘shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And the angel of the Lord appeared to them and they were “sore [very] afraid”.’

And then the angel says something interesting. He says, “Fear not…”

Now, is that a fair request or command?

Can the shepherds choose whether seeing a glorious heavenly personage makes them afraid or not?

I didn’t used to think so. If someone says “boo!’ we have to go “aaahhhh!”. If I see a spider, I have to feel a jolt. If I lose my keys, I must worry. And if I think about seeing my father after failing….

But is that true?

Do I have any control over my emotions?

I ask because this because the answer to that question will give you information about your conception of emotions.

How do you think about emotions?

You might view your emotions as part of the machine of you. You have ideas about what lever pushes what button that triggers fear to happen. Or what happens once fear is ‘triggered’.

Your conception probably came from childhood and might have a lot to do with your parents.

Does a certain stimulus (or none at all?) result in fear automatically? unavoidably? See the spider —> Instant terror?

Or is there an opportunity for you to influence whether the ‘fear’ switch gets activated?

Your conception of fear will have much to do with your relationship to fear. Is fear something that controls you? Stops you from doing what you want? Maybe makes you do things you don’t?

Is it a partner in your life? Or a tool?

Or, is fear something that you manage?

Can you make a choice about your relationship to fear? Can you have a ‘define the relationship’ talk with fear? Can you change that relationship? Or is it simply ‘the way it is’?

What about your experience of fear? If you had never heard the word ‘fear’ until today…If you had never seen someone else label an action or response with or as a result of fear, what would your experience of fear be? How does it feel?

Where does it move or live in your body? If you had to describe the experience of the feeling with a shape and a color, which colors or shapes would you use to compare it to?

Does it feel cold or hot? Instant or slow-to-develop?

Your experience is unique in the entire world.

I want to share a bit of my journey with fear.

I grew up in a family where most people, but definitely the men, didn’t really have or at least show emotions. The only place it was acceptable for a man to cry was at the pulpit when talking about Jesus or his family maybe.

Besides that, I had two men in my life both of whose feelings I never saw.

I started reading pop psych materials at a young age due to my mom’s library and found that there were these things called emotions.

I didn’t feel them, though. I thought that I was ‘beyond’ emotions until my 30’s.

I thought I was courageous. I could do things that terrified others such as public speaking and living alone in a foreign country and it didn’t bother me.

In truth, I didn’t really have much of a relationship to my fear at all. As a result, I did things that were scary and also that were foolish and felt little emotional response to any of it.

My emotions weren’t handled or processed. They were just repressed. And, ironically, they ran my life.

I was afraid of being alone—but I didn’t know it—so I committed to relationships that didn’t serve me and stayed in them much longer than served either of us.

I was afraid of my father’s alienation. So I kept my professional accomplishments below his.

I was afraid of rejection by my spiritual community and God. So I denied my true feelings and needs.

But I wasn’t aware of any of that.

It wasn’t until I started getting body-based therapies that I felt my emotions for the first time.

And when I finally felt them, it was like getting hit by a tsunami.

When I felt anger, I didn’t feel anger. I felt RAGE. It felt as if feeling it would KILL someone or destroy the world.

I didn’t just feel sadness. I felt inconsolable anguished grief. I sobbed for hours.

I didn’t just feel fear. I felt total consuming paralyzing terror.

That’s what it felt like as I began to access these emotions. My initial impulse was to try to put them back into the bottle I had been keeping them in…they just felt too dangerous. And, I couldn’t express them to anyone I knew…it was too much! I knew they couldn’t “handle me” like that—again, more messages from my childhood.

As time progressed, I learned to access these oceans of emotion over and over, and each time I did, a piece of the total mass would release.

I did all of the cathartic screaming and pounding mattress exercises that body-based psychotherapy teaches. I also learned to sit with extreme emotions like sadness or jealousy for hours until the energy purged from my body.

I thought I was doing well.

But life still wasn’t giving me the results I wanted. Blaming outside me didn’t change things, so I looked even more deeply inward.

A powerful coach and dear friend told me last year: “You need to get control of your anger or it will block everything you want to do.” I wondered what he meant.

He had triggered my ‘daddy rage’ and I had unsuccessfully tried to hide it from him.

After working for months with my anger—I will share that story more deeply later—I found fear underneath it.

More paralyzing fear.

I had known for a couple years that I both desired and felt called to do certain things. But I hadn’t…I hadn’t even tried in nearly the way that I wanted.

And other parts of my life still weren’t where I wanted them to be. I suspected fear might be the culprit there was well.

And so I examined my conception of, relationship to, and experience of fear.

When I really dug, I saw many ‘clues’ that there was fear messing with my life in all sorts of places:

  1. I let my family interact with me in ways that didn’t feel good to me without correcting them.
  2. Nervous habits and tics always seemed to haunt me.
  3. Professional and financial results were not good.
  4. Physical tension existed for no explainable reason.

…just as some examples.

Fear seemed like this amorphous, non-corporeal thing, though. How could it be that non-physical and still ‘run’ so much of my life? How could I sort through it, let it go and live a life if not completely without, then with dramatically less fear?

It was then I began to consider that I might be at fault or responsible in some way for the fear within me. This was a breakthrough thought.

Was it possible that I had chosen to use fear as a mechanism to deal with my life and that it was simply serving in this role? If that was the case, could I simply choose not to put fear in this role anymore—remove from fear the job of running so much of my life and find some other way to live?

With these and other questions and yet no idea where else to start, I began focusing my consciousness on fear. The way I did that was to pray.

So I began asking God for three things:

  1. To forgive me for my fear and being fearful. This came from the assumption that at some point I had *chosen* fear as a guide and major support in my life and that that decision was either a mistake OR that this decision had outlived its usefulness.
  2. To heal me from fear. Assuming that, at least in the form that it was in, the fear was not saving or protecting me from anything but was like a wound that was preventing me from living the life I wanted.
  3. To release me from the repercussions of fear. I began to see how all the fear that I had stored in my body had created a cascade of results and effects that were often the opposite of those I had intended and desired. I wanted all those reversed as well.

When I pray like this, I focus my consciousness intensely on these topics or desires or wishes for a long time. To focus that energy, sometimes I kneel. I look for a position that reminds me of what I am doing and to keep me focused.

As I do so, I feel into the experience of the emotion within my body. In this case, I sensed that focusing on fear tended to draw my attention to a sharp pain and dull ache in my pelvis area. Therefore, I would ‘direct’ my attention at that part of my body while repeating the focused prayers over and over.

I did this for several days in a row for an hour or more at a time.

As I did so, I felt many sensations pass through my body. Especially my pelvis. I received insights and ideas about my challenges and issues.

I felt things shifting in that physical/energetic space within my body and most of the pain ‘released’. I also felt what I can only explain as a ‘lightness’ replacing the heaviness and discomfort.

I also sensed and experienced external changes:

  1. I said ‘no’ to people in situations where I would have remained silent before.
  2. Less tension in my body. Pops and cracks that happened every morning just weren’t there anymore.
  3. I started expressing myself professionally in ways that I hadn’t before.

I wasn’t ‘forcing’ any of this. It seemed to be happening as a result of adding consciousness/praying in this area about this thing.

These effects and this experience indicated that:

  1. Yes. Both the chronic fear which I have stored as tension as well as the situation-based fear that pops up when I try to leave my comfort zone are not unassailable biological truths but based on conscious decisions (some of which since I forgot and they became unconscious) to harbor and experience fear as a misguided attempt at protection.
  2. Because I had decided at some point to experience and ‘hold’ fear as a tool or experience in my body, I could also decide to uncreate that experience, release the fear and live life without chronic and situation-based fears.

As I take responsibility and ‘ask for help’ to ‘fear not’, fear has stopped being such a key driving force in my life.

Asking for help also allowed me to develop a healthy humility of how fear was interacting with my life and help me heal in ways I didn’t understand and could not have forseen.

The further I go down this path, the less emotions look like things that ‘happen to me’ or burdens I must suffer (or make others suffer) but conscious decisions or mechanisms that I utilize in order to get the results I want in life, but which sometimes result in unintended consequences.

I look forward to exploring my relationship to fear more deeply as I continue this process.

Self-Empathy Meditation Instructions

NEW: Here is a link to this entire explanation and experience to listen to. The theory and explanation is below.


This technique saved my life.

That is not an exaggeration.

This is the most important practice I can possibly recommend.

#1

It is also the shortest one I have found to peace, healing, and happiness.

STOP!

Most people will read this page, think ‘oh that’s nice’ and move on.

Don’t do that.

TRY IT!!

Ok?

Good.

Let’s move on.

What is this hyper-valuable technique I am so excited about? (And not just me…here’s what people say about the results in their lives: amazing sex, better sleep, better relationships, better health, the results go on and on.)

I call this the Self-Empathy Meditation.

You might ask: “What is ‘self-empathy’? And why do I need any kind of meditation?”

How we Got this Way

Most of us are cut off from the experience of being in our bodies. We don’t really feel how we feel. We are absorbed in trance and thought most of the day, and don’t notice all of the messages our bodies are sending us, whether those are aches and pains, tension, or feelings and emotions.

These are some reasons:

  • We are discouraged from expressing needs and emotions as children.
  • We probably never were given time and space to feel and express our feelings as we grew up. Instead, our behaviors were judged and we were punished or rewarded accordingly. We were taught that feelings were ‘beside the point’.
  • We are told we need to be ‘productive’.
  • We are afraid of what pains and aches might mean.

As a result, when we get tired, we drink coffee. When we get sad, we eat chocolate or drink alcohol. When we have a headache, we take a pill and keep working.

If these become habits to constantly plaster over our feelings, eventually we develop illness, our relationships collapse, we develop dis-ease, or we go through some other form of crises.

I wish you none of these.

This process undoes these effects.

What is Self-Empathy?

Empathy is the process of understanding and relating to someone’s feelings.  In self-empathy we are learning to relate to our own feelings.

And not just to our feelings, but to our physical sensations as well.

Our sensations and our feelings are the building blocks of our us-ness. Before you could speak and before you could walk, you could feel and sense things with your body.

When you were hungry or cold or felt alone, you could cry and express that your body wasn’t comfortable.

Ironically, this ability that you were born with has been trained out of you as you got older.

And, because of all the reasons I named, you have to actually practice giving yourself empathy now.

Most people wait for a financial or medical or relational crisis to shake them up and force them to pay attention to themselves.

If you find yourself in crisis, now is the perfect time to start. If you aren’t in crisis, it’s a great time to start so that you can avoid as much crisis as possible.

What is Meditation?

My definition of meditation is simple. It’s simply ‘being in the here and now’.

When we meditate, we connect to what’s actually happening with our bodies. Are we suffering? In pain? Relaxed? Peaceful? Is there discomfort in your body? Or tension? Right now?

What about emotion?

Become aware of that.

When we meditate, we are not:

  • Worrying about what might happen in the future
  • Thinking about what happened in the past

We let go of all we have to do and all that we have “messed up”, “failed at”, or “gotten wrong”.

As simple as that sounds, it is very very difficult in practice.

Especially at first.

If you are used to plastering over anything uncomfortable that is happening, (which I compare to putting black electrical tape over your dashboard warning lights) when you begin to listen to your body, all sorts of sensations and feelings that you have been repressing (through distraction or medication) will all begin to bubble up at once.

When first began to meditate I felt:

…as if I was locked in my head with a dozen crazy people babbling at me.

I wanted OUT.

Every feeling told me to stop.

But I didn’t. And, as I said, that has made all the difference.

In addition, the forms of meditation that are usually taught don’t work as well for me. I tried at least a dozen forms of meditation before I intuitively started using this method.

It has the advantage of being perhaps the easiest meditation that you can do as a beginner, and it can yield incredible results for ‘advanced meditators’ (!) as well.

What I Got

I said earlier that this meditation saved my life. I don’t know what might have happened if I hadn’t discovered it, but it became the path for me to finally, really live.

I put together a list of all the things that have changed in my life as a result of what this practice brought to me here.

As you can see, there is some pretty major stuff there.

Excited yet?

Putting it Together

Using our previous definitions, Self-Empathy Meditation boils down to: “Being in the Here and Now to Understand and Relate to your Feelings and Sensations“.

Simple? Maybe.

Easy? No.

But very, very worth it.

I promise.

Getting Started

I want to explain to you how to get started in the process. I have tried to make the instructions as simple as possible, but, if you have any questions or challenges, feel free to contact me.

I believe that, whatever your goals, the path to peace in this world individually and collectively would be massively served by as many people as possible practicing this or a similar method of self-enquiry.

In fact, as Tim Ferris notes, almost every top performer uses some method of meditation to accomplish what they do.

Ok. Are you ready?

Great! Let’s start.

What You Will Need

  • A quiet, peaceful place
  • Either: A firm place to lie down or a firm, straight-backed chair. If you choose or need to lie down for the process, I recommend either a yoga mat on the floor, or on a towel with carpet.
  • A timer
  • No distractions
  • Temperature that works for you (possibly a blanket if you are on the floor.)
  • A journal to record your experiences

Ready? Set? Stop!

Here are the actual steps of the process.

  1. Set your timer for 1+ minutes.
    You can start with a minute and work up. I haven’t found a maximum time. You will feel what is right for you.
  2. Assume the position!
    Lie down flat on a comfortable, firm space in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Put a towel, yoga mat, or blanket on the floor rather than using a bed or couch (I have found that if the surface is too soft, we tend to fall asleep, which is great–just not meditation!). If you are lying down, keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Or, you may also sit upright on a firm chair with your back away from the chair and your knees at a 90-degree angle to the floor. [For yogis, use a meditation cushion or chair if you want].
  3. Take a few deep, slow breaths.
  4. As you breathe, bring your attention to where there is the most pain, discomfort, or tightness in your body.
    Shoulders feel tense? Or belly pain? Or face tight? Wherever you notice the most tension, pain, or discomfort, breathe in and imagine you had a mouth there bringing air and energy to that place.
  5. As you put your attention on that tight or uncomfortable place and breathe, be aware of what happens at that spot. Some possibilities are:
    • The pain/tension/discomfort gets more intense
    • The pain/tension/discomfort decreases
    • The pain/tension/discomfort (P/T/D) stays the same
    • Emotions seem to happen ‘for no reason’ (anger, sadness, joy, or fear)
    • You become aware of another place in your body where the pain/tension/discomfort is even stronger
  6. If the P/T/D gets more intense, or remains, just continue breathing into it deeply. If it decreases, eventually another place will probably become more prominent and you can switch your focus there, imagining a mouth ‘breathing in’ at that place.
  7. Continue this process until the timer goes off.
  8. After the timer goes off, slowly begin to re-orient yourself back in the space you are in, sit up, stretch, take a few breaths…and wonder at the magnificence of what you just experienced.

Congratulations! You have just experienced your first self-empathy meditation (the most basic version). To get the most out of this experience:

8. Write about the sensory experience you had. In other words, write down the exact things you felt in your body during the experience. Such as:

“At first, I noticed some tightness in my chest. It relaxed eventually. Then I felt a pain on the right side of my neck. As I focused on it, it became more intense but then subsided. At this point, I was aware of a dull throbbing in my left temple….”

And so on. Simply *observe and report* what your senses are telling you.

Do not, either during the meditation or when journaling about it:

  • Analyze the experience (“I think it must have been because of my accident earlier”)
  • Speak in generalities (“I wasn’t really feeling good” instead –> “I had a throbbing on my left temple when I started.” )
  • Concern yourself with thoughts (“My report that was due in an hour….”) [unless they feel like ‘breakthrough insights’]
  • Evaluate the experience (“This must mean that I need to forgive my father”)

Simply record your neutral, sensory observations.

Again: Here is a link to this entire explanation and experience to listen to.


How was it? Tell me. Also, if you have any questions or comments, let me know and I will answer them for you.

Once you have done it a few times and are ready for more, let me know and I will send you more advanced instructions.