Empathy – What’s All the Fuss About?!

When I spoke previously about self-empathy, I was speaking about empathy we provide to ourselves. As I mentioned in that blog, until you can give yourself empathy, it is really difficult to provide empathy to someone else, especially your Ex. In fact, trying to provide empathy to your Ex when you are triggered yourself is not advised!

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Empathy for others is no different from when we have empathy for ourselves; it focuses on three things:

 (1) trying to genuinely understand the other person’s perspective and experience,

 (2) creating a connection with the other person so they feel understood and gotten, and

 (3) helping the other person gain deeper insight into their own feelings and needs.

Often being empathic is described as standing in someone else’s shoes.  Trying to imagine how she sees the world.  Sometimes when I am trying to genuinely understand the other person’s perspective, I imagine myself literally standing as them in their place. I hold my body the way s/he does, I stand where s/he stands, and I try to embody his/her being. 

This is no small feat for a couple of reasons!  First, usually when we are in a conversation or argument with someone, rather than listen, I mean, really listen, we focus our attention on our response. If you think about this it is really rather ironic.  First, when we focus on our response, we do not hear what is being said. In which case, our response can be quite irrelevant!  Second, if we want to be heard ourselves, we have to be willing to listen!  Either way, our needs are not getting met!  When both people are talking and no one is listening, no one is actually communicating!  You are simply talking.  Communication is a two-way street – it involves BOTH listening (i.e., actually hearing) and speaking!

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So how do you really listen?
  1. Presence:  Temporarily put your own position on the back burner. That does not mean you drop what is important to you and never raise it, it means you recognize that you are more likely to be heard if the other person is heard.

  2. Curious:  Become genuinely curious about what is going on for the other person. 

  3. Listen to the Meaning:  Listen not just to the words that are being spoken but also to the meaning underneath the  words.  What is it that is so important in the words being spoken? What matters most to this person?

  4. Open: Be receptive and open rather than defensive.  They are simply sharing their perspective; it is not the truth of who you are or of the experience.

  5. Reflection:  This includes reflecting back what you hear the other person saying.  You want the other person to have a sense of being “gotten” or understood.

  6. Reframe:  Reframe what is being said into language that captures the needs that are so important to him/her.  (For example you might say, “Are you really worried about our son’s well-being?”  Or, “Do you want to know that our daughter is safe?”)

When you are able to listen in this way, it is more likely that your Ex will feel heard. When this happens, it is more likely s/he will be able to hear you in return.  You are far more likely to get your own needs met when you hear one another than if you try to convince your Ex that you are right or if you try to read him/her the riot act! 

I can hear you saying to yourself (or perhaps if you are like me out loud!), yea but s/he NEVER listens and I always do!  I want to propose that perhaps you are not actually HEARING what your Ex is saying.  If you genuinely want to hear your Ex, you can ask him/her the following question.  “I think I am understanding you and this is what I am hearing you say [then reflect back what you are hearing], am I hearing you correctly?”  Then open your heart to hear your Ex differently.  I know it can be exhausting to try to do this again and again and yet if you are committed to parenting effectively with your former partner or spouse so your kids are protected, then it is worth the effort!

In support,






  1. […] are right, you are focused on yourself, not the other person. As I discussed in my previous blog [link to previous blog on Empathy], empathy is being present with the other person’s […]

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