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Empathy

Brokenwings63 posted 3/12/2020 14:56 PM

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3/12/2020

EMPATHY (edited original post)
As a WW and in R. I've been working on and understanding how to feel empathy. Iím having a hard time learning how to put myself into someone elseís shoes and understand how they really feel! It scares me because I must feel and learn to feel otherís feelings of emotions. I have been numb for so long, knowing this was part of my FOOís and CSA issues. I am realizing with IC and reading that I have never had empathy to or for other peopleís feelings. Learning not how to feel and numbing at such a young child's age, as so many of you know. I still to this day don't understand why my loving husband still loves me, as my horrible choices have destroyed this man in every way. Unconditional love you call it. I am truly blessed that he has given me a chance to change and heal. I sure don't deserve him and he deserves a better life than I have given him , so I realize I have to learn and be more empathetic and really put myself in his shoes, and body and to really see what I have done to his life and how much PAIN I have caused him. I know I have killed our marriage of 36 years, trust and love together. We are starting a new marriage, partnership, friendship and trust. I have a lot of work to do to learn how to be empathetic and to feel. It's scary too and I am learning to cry A LOT! I am also not good at showing my emotions, as this was also taboo in my FOOís. Before it would take me a lot to cry and feel. Just recently I have changed my meds and they are working, and I am finally feeling. It's so emotional and disturbing on what I have done in my life. I hate myself for it. But I must dig so deep inside me and to get well, otherwise I will never be healthy or safe to anyone in my life. I am finally owning up to my sinful ways and WILL be a better person to my Family. It's going to be hard work, but I can't be the person that I have been for so long and I must change. So, what are some of the ways I can build my empathy skills? How did you learn to really understand the magnitude of the damage that you caused? Any advice for me would be grateful!

[This message edited by Brokenwings63 at 12:00 PM, March 17th (Tuesday)]

Jorge posted 3/15/2020 00:30 AM

Never trust another man or even engage a man in communication, as men are the drug of your choice and once the right man has targeted you, it's easy street and your husband is further humiliated and disrespected.

You say you love your husband, but you have to question your respect of him and if he trusts you. Love, respect and trust are the pillars of a relationship, and you're missing a couple according to this and previous posts of yours.

Men are your weakness, so I'd simply be more proactive and way less trusting of men until your boundaries are strengthened, which could take a few years.

Brokenwings63 posted 3/17/2020 12:42 PM

Jorge, you are right. I have edited my first post to clean it up. I really got off track and wasn't sure how to get my question out. Sorry for that! But you are so right in my weakness.
I have set some serious boundaries for the first time in my life. Now looking at how much pain I have caused and truly understanding the magnitude of my actions. Truly knowing that I can make myself healthy and am now being a sponge for information via podcast,books,IC, I am starting to believe I have a chance to be healed and learn how to be in a healthy relationship. I have listened to a couple of podcast on empathy training and they have helped a little. I'm starting to really sit back and process my actions, trying to imagine if my Husband had done the same things to me--I'm dealing with so much guilt and shame on myself, yet see the destruction I have caused in him. My guilt and shame is making it hard for me to feel any of his pain, but I am starting to get it--and it's extremely painful.

Wearingmyring posted 4/7/2020 11:22 AM

Hello, I am a WH, I had a 2yr PA,now in R. I too have empathy issues and have come to realize I am a Narcissist. I want to change and learn how to be emotionally there for my BW and help her heal, but that has been hard for me to do. So I understand where you're coming from. I am seeking IC for my issues.

[This message edited by Wearingmyring at 12:56 PM, April 7th (Tuesday)]

thatbpguy posted 4/7/2020 17:22 PM

As a WW and in R. I've been working on and understanding how to feel empathy. Iím having a hard time learning how to put myself into someone elseís shoes and understand how they really feel!

With the greatest of respect, I suggest not bothering to try. Just be sympathetic and loving. You cannot really put yourself in the place of someone you have physically and emotionally damaged for life. You just can't. The mind movies, the pain in one's chest so bad eating and sleeping is hard to come by. The inner depression and longing for all that was lost and never comes back. The utter humiliation.....

You would simply have to live thru it.

So move forward and let that personal hell be his and his alone. Work the edges and let time heal him as much as it will.

I wish you well.

hatefulnow posted 4/8/2020 23:31 PM

Hello Brokenwings63,

I don't know your story, but I want you to know you've been heard. Empathy is difficult if you've never experienced a thing. Just always put your best foot forward as best you can. I wish you luck in the journey.

Okokok posted 4/9/2020 06:32 AM

Ahhh, my favorite word these days.

I hope you don't mind me participating here, but I find this topic so fascinating and would love to join this chat.

I've been trying in the past 6 months or so to understand my own ptsd diagnosis and how it interplays with what I consider to be too much empathy! I'm also learning how difficult it can be to openly talk about issues related to one's past traumas, but trying to be a little braver about that these days (my issues, like so many others, go back many many years).

One of the things I've learned is that often people diagnosed with PTSD have *too much* empathy--so much that it affects their ability to have and express good boundaries and to really have healthy relationships. I know from reading and therapy that the opposite can also be true: some people with the diagnosis can have *too little* empathy, or maybe none at all.

Anyway, I've had an interesting experience with the word 'empathy' in my adult life. In the early days of becoming a school leader, I worked on a team project that ended up placing me in a category of "ruinous empathy"--that is, so much empathy that you actually *hurt* your ability to be a good leader and help people. My team lovingly pointed out that, while they didn't think I was "ruinous" necessarily, the shoe definitely fit. I am in charge of some teachers who can be pretty awful sometimes, and from an outsider's perspective it can look like I cut them lots of slack. That's not good, honestly, when part of my literal job is to help people grow and be better teachers.

Later on, with the same team, I went through a days-long project using the Gallup CliftonStrengths assessment, wherein you sort of narrow down your "strengths" as a person/leader, and guess what my #1 was by a long shot? "Empathy." My team found it charming and funny. I was thinking, "What the hell? How is this my greatest strength and at the same time "ruinous"?"

Recently, in a leadership role in a different school setting, I got an email with what was intended to be a compliment from someone I work with. He said: "People in the community, I want you to know, talk about your *superhuman empathy*..."

A great compliment. My heart sunk.

I'm sort of reflecting on and researching myself these days. One thing about me: I've never had a serious long-term relationship that didn't end in infidelity :(

My recent ex-WGF had an empathy problem much like what you describe in yourself. We talked about it on a variety of levels during many, many problem periods in our relationship. I have literally said the words to her "it's almost as if you have no empathy for me at all." She said she had heard that many times in her life in different relationships.

I will add that she has experienced trauma and brokenness in her life, going back years, related to FOO and CSA, like you it sounds like.

What's incredibly scary to me, and what makes me worried about whatever relationship(s) are in my future, is how *attracted* to her, and even to that part of her, I was. The polar opposite of me. Like I found it almost cute and charming that this lack of empathy was one of her "quirks." She is very beautiful and smart, and I (wrongly) I think saw this as a sign of "strength" or "independence." It was uniquely beautiful to me. It became much less charming, and of course infinitely debilitating and hurtful, when other men began to enter the picture and she became incredibly cold and cruel, turning on a dime. I know from my time with her that she's also been referred to as "cold" and "cruel" a lot.

Not sure how this plays into your original post exactly, but I wanted to share this. I do think that a lot of what I've seen here on SI over the years can be boiled down to, on some level, empathy imbalances in relationships. Curious what others might think about that.

I will also say that I am slowly learning that issues of empathy are definitely something that we can work on. Therapy has helped and will hopefully continue to help me. Probably some literature as well.

One question I'm curious about: outside of your little world of adult relationships, do you find yourself much more empathetic? For example, with children or animals or the elderly--maybe any vulnerable population--do you have a strong sense of advocacy/empathy in those other realms?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience :)

swmnbc posted 4/9/2020 14:17 PM

My IC/MC told me that my husband was low on empathy and I was really shocked at the time because he can be, when he wants to be, very compassionate and deep-feeling. However, he only turned it on when it suited him, so it wasn't based on a deep level of respect and concern for the other person. It was about how it made him feel and appear, I believe.

In the months after DDay I began to pay more attention to his behavior, like how he would act put out when I fell ill, how he would ask about my day and then cut me off to talk about himself. I noticed how I would share my feelings about the affair and he would look frustrated and frozen rather than trying to listen and comfort.

So basically it felt like empathy boot camp, where I'd say, "So imagine if our child was sharing with you something that rightly caused her a lot of pain. How would you react to that? Can you think about my pain without being overwhelmed by how you caused it?" I'm an analytical person who is fairly emotionally independent so I was able to do this, but it was still very hard at times. Sometimes when he would interrupt me or drop the ball it would be such a blow that I wouldn't want to be vulnerable again for a while.

I really think it's a matter of practice. You ask yourself, "How would this make him feel?" You have to remember that other people may feel differently than you do and try to see it as they see it. It's remembering that you don't have to fix the other person's feelings . . . just sit with them. It's interpreting the Golden Rule not as "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," but "Do unto others as they would like done unto them."

Empathy is all about remembering the value of the other person. And of course that can be hard if you are having trouble valuing yourself first and foremost. But practice is what makes perfect.

[This message edited by swmnbc at 2:17 PM, April 9th, 2020 (Thursday)]

Brokenwings63 posted 4/13/2020 12:12 PM

One question I'm curious about: outside of your little world of adult relationships, do you find yourself much more empathetic? For example, with children or animals or the elderly--maybe any vulnerable population--do you have a strong sense of advocacy/empathy in those other realms?

To your question I would say yes to all three. I have a sense of security and emotions to animals. Especially to dogs and horses. I can take a wild, crazy horse and tame them. I have also tamed farrow cats. I build their trust and respect. With PTSD dogs are my comfort.So are horses.They are my go to animals. When I was abused with CSA issues my comforts were my animals. As far as the elderly, I have a sense of empathy towards them, especially if their love ones never come and see them. Example in Asst. Living homes. I took care of my Mom and saw her everyday in a Asst. living care facility. She had Alzheimer's. I would see the gratitude on the elderly when I would be there with my Mom. But it sadden me to see them alone and have no loved ones there.
I made sure my children were never abused in any way. I raised them with love, kindness, affection and to respect others. I always had all there friends over. I loved that. Something I missed out as a child and not feeling safe at home. I wanted to make sure they always felt loved and safe. When I do hear about a child being abused my first thought is to want to save them and protect them.(Empthy?) My heart goes out to them because I was that child.

I will add that she has experienced trauma and brokenness in her life, going back years, related to FOO and CSA, like you it sounds like.
I am learning to be empathetic with adult issues, but I have trust issues. I am learning to feel empathy on what I have done to my H and the damage I have caused him. The sorrow I see in his eyes and heart. I also learned in my younger years to not feel, and numb my feelings and that I didn't even know the damage I was causing. My infidelity and lies that I lived with. One lie would start and then another one and another one. It would be like living in two different worlds and then not knowing what is real or not. It's feels like you have another person inside of you. The good one and the bad one. The protective one that helped you survive your childhood abuse still needs to protect and control you. That's the one that protects the little child within and takes the abuse and learns how to live to never trusts anyone. then you realize that the protective person is hurting you all along in your adult life and the ones you love, my H. You have to send that demon child away with IC and a lot of deep inner child work. It's been scary for me and the hardest thing I have ever done. To realize the damage and abuse I caused and now accepting it . It's really hard to love myself because of the pain I have caused, but I am learning! I went from being a victim to being the victimizer. It's someone I would never of dreamed of being and here I am having that label. I am learning to accept it and living everyday. I do thank you for your input.


gmc94 posted 4/13/2020 13:01 PM

BrokenWings -

my first thought is to want to save them and protect them
Not saying this is a thing for you, but it may be helpful to explore this further. Brene Brown calls it "hustling for your worth". For some, it may be codependence. My WH has it in spades, and he is by no means an outlier for a WS who gets their self worth/value by helping others (one example is I had surgery that caused a big infection. He was really great about cleaning and dressing the wound, which I could not do myself. The problem is his motivation was really about being "the good guy" more than anything with me or my wounds or pain. He cannot tolerate being seen as insensitive or an asshole. So he cleans the wounds, and builds resentment, telling himself what a great person he is, even while balls deep into his PA). Doing for others to feel good about ourselves is different than empathy. And it's a fine line that each has to explore themselves to get clear about motivations.

IOW, an action can be empathetic or selfish, depending on the internal motivation and ensuring that the empathetic response is not about "me" but about the other. It's done w/o minimizing, or deflecting, or defensiveness, etc. To me, an easy A-related example is trust. A BS may say "I can never trust anyone again." An empathetic response is NOT about the WS. it's not the WS saying (hopefully not even to themselves, but that takes time) something like "just bc I lied about my A doesn't mean I can't be trusted to be honest about the store being out of milk... or just bc I broke your trust doesn't mean others would do the same"

The empathetic response will VALIDATE the BS feeling and respond from that lens, using tools like reflective listening (you can look it up). The response is that the SOLE purpose is to understand and hear what the BS is saying/feeling, and not to make yourself feel better. There's something called the "AVR formula" that can also help (Acknowledging the issue, Validating the BS feelings [anger, sadness, loneliness, happiness or fear], and Reassurance that the WS will help the BS heal)

For instance: "I'm so sorry that my betrayal cuts so deep it feels like no one can be trusted (acknowledgment), I can understand why you would fear trusting others after being blindsided by my affair in which I abused the trust you placed in me (validating). I am committed to living in honesty and to respect your gift of staying together to allow me to work to regain trust in our relationship (reassurance).

Brene Brown has a youtube video on empathy that's pretty good. My WH's CSAT recommended a book called Help.Her.Heal. Tho written for male SAs, I think it would be beneficial to any WS. It's more of a workbook than anything, and the exercises look helpful (or look like they would be helpful if my WH actually did them [sigh]).

Brokenwings63 posted 4/13/2020 13:08 PM

I really think it's a matter of practice. You ask yourself, "How would this make him feel?" You have to remember that other people may feel differently than you do and try to see it as they see it. It's remembering that you don't have to fix the other person's feelings . . . just sit with them. It's interpreting the Golden Rule not as "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," but "Do unto others as they would like done unto them.

I keep thinking of "Venus and Mars". I have to put myself in there shoes. I am learning to stop, think and listen. Absorb what they are feeling and going through. Your last quote is very wise.. A good eye opener,thank you.

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