Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Empathic or emphatic?

I tend towards the latter in relationships!

It's a sad and sordid admission really but a necessary one. All or Nothing springs to mind as a sort of deeply embedded meme by which I have lived some of my closest relationships over the years.

Emphatically do I push and pull and urge and yes - manipulate - for that which I stubbornly hold true as my due in the too and fro of relating.

I BELIEVE I have empathy for other people but truth be told more often than not, I am not really being empathic at all. I don't genuinely feel what another is feeling even though I can sense it but the evidence of their feelings are clouded by my insistence on always having things go my own way.

I wonder how many other people do this?

Am I alone in my selfishness?

I'm currently reading the book "I'm ok - You're ok" by Thomas Harris M.D. Written at the beginning of the 1970's, this pop psychology book was, I recall, a big hit and more or less redefined much of the psychological and psychoanalytical function and understanding of human behaviour throughout that decade.

Many claim this book to be an extremely over-simplified treatise of Transactional Analysis theory but even so, Dr Harris did bring a new language to the ordinary layperson who was looking to break out of old patterns of behaviour and rewrite his "script" for a brighter future!

I have so far found the book interesting and even enlightening and it is proving to be valuable in accessing this demon within that I have labelled "Emphatic".

My Child rules!

In TA Theory, the notion of 'The Child' is a little different than you might expect. In a nutshell, The Child is the feeling response from external "transactions" imposed upon the little person before the age of five or thereabouts. It is the emotional centre of the human psyche where we learned to feel what we feel when we were small, helpless and totally reliant on our parents and others to care for us. It is from the time when we did not have the words to think with but only responded to the stimuli that happened to us through how we felt about it. Most of the time these feelings were those based in fear. The Child in all of us experiences fear, loss, abandonment, unhappiness. It also experiences those wonderful warm, cosy, cuddled up feelings of being loved and that awesome feeling of belonging when our needs are met and we feel secure. The Child in all of us learns to believe, in Dr Harris' opinion, to feel "I'm not ok!" and uses strategies in its transactions in order to get "Stroked" or get those warm, fuzzy feelings of being "ok".

I do think that much of my relationship life is very much coming from this foundation of belief where "I'm not ok - you're ok". In essence, I feel small and act small and believe I am small and that I absolutely and positively NEED to be stroked by you, who is bigger, stronger, more cluey and in touch with life than I am, so that I can feel better about myself.

I am therefore emphatic and not empathic although I may use a cursory attempt at genuine empathy on occasion in order to achieve my emphatic goal of self-assertion.

It's all very complicated and there are a raft of other factors involved of course. In TA, there isn't just The Child aspect of the human psyche, there are also The Parent and The Adult.

One hopes that one can predominately engage the rational and pragmatic Adult without losing the joy and wonder of The Child too, while the ever watchful Parent side carefully monitors that things are kept within the boundaries of safety and morality.

My goal as a human being is to be Serene. That quiet assurance of confidence that comes from a beautiful heart and mind where The Other is not just important for my own ends and needs but because they are who they are despite what they may do or say to me. I want to be empathic towards people and feel what they feel and understand it and them and share their load with them without becoming a pitiful martyr or scapegoat or manipulating to get strokes for myself.

I believe that somewhere in the centre of who I am, with all my flaws, abundant though they be, there IS a warm, loving and gentle Adult that deeply cares for and wants to engage with people in a profoundly empathic way.

Without misery, manipulation, or mastery, I hope to be someone who's Child within, finds pleasure in just being with people and playing with them with no other objective than Joyful Delight.

I will not feel okay all the time, my Child has entrenched habits of reaction to certain types of transaction, but... I am discovering that what I feel at these moments is not something to be feared so much as something to grow from and learn about. The more I learn about the way I am and the way I behave in the world, the more I feel that compassionate empathy for other people around me and that HAS to be a good thing yeah? :)

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