Be Empathic to Others to Get Friendly With Yourself

 

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Self-Care tip #79 – Be empathic to others.  Be a friend to yourself.

Yesterday I wrote about considering intent and context when comparing self-care with selfishness.  That carries over to the people sharing life with those of us who have mental illness.  Do they see us as selfish?  For example, how is the spouse of the Panic Disorder going to make sense of the 40 phone-calls he gets while at work?

Mary’s husband told me that she’s been calling him “all day,” terrified she was going to die.  Checking to see when he was coming home.  She couldn’t go to the market because people would laugh at her.  Afraid.  Afraid.  Just plain afraid.  Really, everything had become about her.  She was like a scared kid.  Frankly it was annoying.  He was in a stressful work situation with the economy slumping.  People he knew were being laid off.  The other day he had to leave in the middle of an important job to go home and reassure her.  She was sobbing in the living room.  Sure she was going crazy.  He realized that he might have to tell his boss what was going on but what was going on?!  Who had his wife turned into.

In yesterday’s blog, we spoke about the ability to abstract v. concrete thinking.  Being able to abstract helps with empathy – connecting emotional content between people.  To put yourself in someone else’s shoes, as if you were them.  This is a critical part of relating, i.e. being in a relationship.  Many different mind illnesses affect our ability to abstract, including panic disorder.

In Mary’s case, she was not empathic when she was anxious.  She was thinking about herself.  Understandably, if you read the part about her believing she was going to die or go crazy.  But when you’re married to her, empathizing with her gets old.  It’s not so easy when it seeps into your work life, you haven’t had sex for months, and you have to do everything that has anything to do with going outside of the home.  Some part of you knows it’s not true, but another part of you screams, “Get over it you selfish child!”

Is Mary selfish?  Some might be able to answer even after all the phone-calls and unrecognizable behaviors, no.  Mary is not selfish.  They can do this specifically because they can abstract.  They can empathize.  They can consider the context of Mary’s disease and the intent of her behaviors.

Not everyone does this.  Not everyone is able to let “It” be about someone else.  Not everyone doesn’t have to have “It” be about them.

The best thing for those in relationships with someone emotionally ill, is to view the way they are behaving as biological.  When treated medically, than Mary or whoever it is in your life can do their own self-care.  But until then, staying in their lives requires maintaining an empathic view that considers intent and context.  It also means furthermore, doing your own self-care individually.

There are over-lapping flaps to our lives.  Scales on the back of an armadillo.  Me as encased by my body.  Me, that includes the space between me and you.  Me, that includes you, because you will always be a part of me.  Self-care really involves all that by degrees.  A chain-link.

So the question is, can empathy be chosen?  With money in the bank and wisdom, yes.

Self-Care tip #79 – Be empathic to others.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  Does any of this ring true for you?  Please tell me your story.

One thought on “Be Empathic to Others to Get Friendly With Yourself

  1. Very interesting post!

    Always intrigued by the possible connection between empathy and forgiveness…. I’d love to hear from you on the topic of forgiveness. For example, does Mary’s husband need to forgive her? Does she need to forgive herself? She really hasn’t done anything wrong… Yet, even if we have an illness, that doesn’t mean we’re unaccountable for how our behaviors make others feel…or does it?

    Unrelated to Mary’s case: if someone does us a great wrong in our minds, how do we go about forgiving that person? What is the nature of forgiveness? Is it coming to peace with accepting a person as he or she is? What role does trust play?

    Too many questions…

    Anyway, I’d love to hear your insights about forgiveness…

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