Jan 20, 2022


by Lisa A. Romano

In order to feel close to someone, each person must have the ability to experience empathy. If you are looking for a relationship, be sure to pay attention to not only your level of empathy for others but make sure you are looking for others who have the ability to also experience empathy as well.

Trying To Help, But Making it Worse

I thought it was important to create a session around this idea that has to do with how so many of us tend to make things worse when we're only trying to make things better, and I think most of us are guilty of this.

We think that we're helping out a friend who's in pain, we think that we're helping out a family member who is going through a rough time and we say things that oftentimes derail the conversation because we are uncomfortable with what they're going through.

The Four Qualities of Empathy

Theresa Weissman was a nursing scholar who studied empathy, and I wanted to share the four qualities of empathy that she outlined that I think are brilliant.

Number One: Is the ability to take in someone else's perception.
Number Two: Is to do so without judgment, zero judgment of what this person is sharing.
Number Three: Is the ability to recognize another person's feeling like you've felt this feeling before.
Number Four: Is the ability to communicate the understanding of that person's feelings.

Brene Brown discusses empathy as

“an emotion that has the ability to help people feel connected”.

If you've followed my work for any length of time, you know one of the things I talk a lot about is narcissism and codependency and how the two seem to inevitably end up being a part of so many relationships that end up being toxic.

The Empathy Impaired
On one side of the spectrum, we have someone who lacks empathy or is empathy impaired. This is frightening when you consider what has just been outlined, the ability to see someone else's perspective.

If you've ever been in a relationship with someone who has high narcissistic traits, you feel like you're constantly trying to get your point across, and you think it's you. You think that if I say it this way, he'll understand it. If I wait a few days and try to discuss it again and say it a different way, she'll understand it. Or maybe if I don't approach him at this time of the day and I approach him at another time of the day, perhaps then he'll understand it.

When we're dealing with a highly narcissistic person, we don't always recognize or understand that the person standing before us lacks the ability to see things and feel things from another person's perspective, and you think it's you. We can get stuck in that loop for a very, very long time.

The Excessive Empaths
Then we have people who seem to have way too much empathy, or I think a better way to explain it is that people who have a lot of empathy, where they tend to feel what other people feel, and even communicate that they have these feelings, they can feel what other people feel.

Sometimes we lack the ability to use a boundary in a healthy way. That prevents the person who has high empathy from feeling drained and, ultimately in many cases, feeling exploited by people who lack empathy. So

“empathy is huge when it comes to humanity, and it is essential to survival.”

Having empathy for one another allows us to move forward and to grow as communities, as families, as well as the global community. Without empathy, we are going to see more and more destruction. I think each of us must understand what empathy is so we can recognize when we are actually being empathic and or when we are not being empathic and when we are perhaps doing more harm than good.

Don’t Be THAT Person
One of the ways that we do more harm than good when it comes to helping our friends through a bad time is when we divert the conversation, and we say things like, well, at least you know that didn't happen to you, and at least this didn't happen to you, and at least it's not so bad.

One of the ways that we put the kibosh on empathy is when we are talking to someone, and they share something with us, and we think we're helping by making them think about something else, or we give them a frame of reference that takes them out of the emotion that they're in and lots of times that has to do with us not knowing what to say. That has to do with us wanting to make this other person feel good, so our intentions are good. However, we're doing more harm than good because

“empathy is the ability to sit with someone else's experience and not add to that experience.”

We're not supposed to be taking away from that experience; we're supposed to be saying I'm going to be right here with you in this grief, in this sadness, and this loss and I just want to be your friend through it. I'm just going to hold your hand, and I'm just going to listen, and I'm not going to tell you that it should be any other way than what it is.

I'm not going to talk you out of what you're feeling; I'm just going to stay here in this space with you and let you know that I recognize this feeling, that I can empathize with this feeling, I know how uncomfortable this is for you, I'm sorry you're going through this experience, but you're not alone!

I just want to share this with you, I heard Brene Brown talk about empathy, and it really struck me because what she says is so profound. I know in myself that I have said this to family members and people that I've loved, and once I heard Brene Brown talk about it, I thought, I really don't want to be that person anymore. I don't want to be the person who says to someone in pain, that well, at least you have this experience to lean on, and at least you found out now, and you didn't find out later. It's important that we recognize that when we do that, we are taking the experience away from the person in pain because we are uncomfortable with what they're experiencing, even if we have good intentions.

I remember finding out that a friend was having a difficult time in her marriage, and one of the things that I said was, you know what? It's better that you found out now than later, and while it's true, that didn't do much for my friend who was in pain. At the moment, experiencing heartache, experiencing betrayal, and going through a rough patch, I was uncomfortable that my friend was in pain. All I wanted to do was help her feel better and see the light at the end of the tunnel. But that's not true empathy. I added to the situation and in fact, I took away from the situation because I made it about what I thought was a good thing in this tragic situation which is not empathy.

And so, I think in those situations, we are doing more harm than good. When we are not showing up for one another, I think it's a lesson worth investigating, a lesson worth thinking about for so many reasons as it will help you become a better human being. It'll also help you identify better human beings.

Take Your Relationships Seriously
What do I mean by that? Well, I've recognized in my own life that a relationship with the wrong person is devastating. However, every relationship that I've had has been relationships that have taught me the most in my life. But that doesn't mean, for instance, that I want my children to have to go through a slew of troubling relationships before they figure it out. Life's just too short for that, and if there are shortcuts, I'm all about it; I want to know what they are!

I've always been the type of mom who has encouraged my children to think very seriously about the partners they choose to be with because the people they're intimate with, you're exchanging sacred energy. Respect yourself, be choosy, be very careful, investigate, and know this person. And that is because, as I said earlier, being with a psychologically dominating and very toxic person, is insecure, has narcissistic traits, someone who can be paranoid, who feels like the world is out to get them, who can only feel in control if they're controlling you, can derail you in life.

So I take relationships very seriously. And that's most likely because of what I've experienced in my own life. Learning about empathy does us good because if we can identify what true empathy is, we can identify when we are sitting across the table from someone who has empathy or lacks empathy.

Who Has Empathy and Who Doesn’t?

I want to expand on identifying if someone has empathy or not.

So you meet someone, and you talk to them about your day, which can be a very telling experience. When you first meet someone, remember a new broom always sweeps clean. So we're looking for this type of pattern over time, and if you identify this pattern, it's crucial that you recognize it, identify it as a red flag, and take it seriously.

When you're sitting across the table from someone, and you tell them that you're having a bad day, it's really up to you to be able to identify whether or not this person sitting across from you can receive that information. It's also very important to figure out whether or not what you're being shared can be shared with this other person without you feeling judged.

It’s also essential that you figure out whether or not this person can identify with the feeling you're expressing. You also have to figure out if this person can communicate with you what it is they believe that you're feeling. When you find someone who has empathy for you, you have someone you can bond with and communicate with. You have found yourself in a relationship that can grow.

We want to make sure that we are also this type of a person for our friends so that we are the person who can sit with another person who's in pain, we can identify what they're feeling, we can express what they're feeling, we're not adding anything to the conversation, we're not adding to this person's experience, and we're not taking away from this person's experience. And if we can practice empathy in our own lives, then we know when it shows up.

I can tell you, as a little girl, I didn't experience empathy growing up, it's a very sad thing to think about, but nonetheless, it's the truth. In my house growing up, my mother had a severe lack of empathy for me specifically, and the only person she seemed to have empathy for, in my opinion, was my dad. And that's fine; it is what it is. It was a very co-dependent narcissistic relationship. I share that because I had no data, I did not have the empathy tool in my shed, and I didn't know what it felt like to have someone have empathy for me.

Although growing up feeling like I was in a home that lacked empathy, I ended up feeling very empathic myself—feeling my mother's feelings, feeling her frustration, recognizing her frustration, wanting to fix her frustration. And so, empathy was ramped up within me. However, I went out into the world and didn't know what it felt like to receive empathy, and that was to my deficit and my detriment in relationships. I have since learned the lesson of empathy, and I am here to tell you that these lessons stick if you work them, if you learn about them, if you apply them, if you think about them, if you make it a part of your personal development arsenal.

Seriously, you have a personal development belt, and you need to put this in your tool belt and recognize what empathy is. You need to practice empathy with your friends, practice self-empathy, have empathy for yourself, do not judge yourself, know that this is not your fault.

You can heal. You can shift.

I can tell you that because of the journey that I'm on. I was able to manifest an amazing husband, and one of the qualities that I love about him the most is his empathy. As a woman, I'm going to be 57 years old; I've been in menopause for over ten years now, hot flashes can be debilitating, and Anthony, even though he's a man, when I tell him, “wow, last night was rough I had hot flashes throughout the night”, I look at this man's face. I can tell he has empathy for me. Everything stops; he's like, “babe, that sounds so hard, that must have been difficult to sleep through that”, and I can feel that he can imagine what that feels like, and that makes me feel closer to him.

“Empathy has the ability to help us bond with other people.”

We need one another, and the world needs more empathy, and I would encourage you to have more empathy for yourself, more empathy for others, and when you're out and about looking for a partner, make sure that part of what you are looking for is empathy.

Namaste everybody, until next time!

If you would like to learn more about the traits you should seek in a partner to be happy, watch this video on my YouTube Channel, where I dive into each one.

You can also check out the rest of my website www.lisaaromano.com for some more resources, as well as my 12-Week Breakthrough Program and Codependency Quiz.