Developing compassion and empathy with Focusing
A key aspect of Focusing partnership is to be able to show compassion and be empathic with your partner. The Focuser needs to feel safe with you, and they need to know that they will not be judged or criticised. But how do you actually do it, and can compassion and empathy be learned?
I think it can. It is something that I have been developing over many years through my work as a Focusing practitioner; with clients and in my own practise with Focusing partners.
Empathy is the ability to feel alongside someone else’s feelings as if they were your own.
I now feel it is a lifelong learning. Can I listen so closely to someone, that they feel fully heard and met? Can I really listen to them, to try to understand how it is for them, and hold the space for them, without judging, analysing or criticising them?
From my own experience, I can say that practising Focusing develops this capacity for increased compassion and empathy.
This supports your own healing and development. It’s win-win. The more compassion you bring to yourself and your own issues; the more healing you get; then the greater capacity you have for helping others.
Empathy is not the same as taking on what someone else is feeling.
The difference is when you are able to be in Self-in-Presence. You can monitor or notice how much you are able to be Self-in-Presence. It’s variable, and people tend to come and go with it all the time.
When you are Self-in-Presence, you do not identify or ‘fall into’ the feelings that are being expressed or sensed into.
You are able to keep a warm, compassionate distance from the feelings, at the same time as making space for them and acknowledging them as being real and valid. My logic says if they are here, there must be some good reason for them being here, or they wouldn’t be here at all. You may not yet know the reason why they are here. And that’s OK. What they need most is to be heard, acknowledged and accepted just as they are.
I discovered recently that I had inadvertently ‘fallen into’ the feelings that my Focusing partner was expressing.
Later, I felt uncomfortable when I realised that I had not been able to be fully present, and had been internally judging what my partner was expressing. I had found it hard to be empathic.
So in a subsequent session, I acknowledged my own feelings, and gave them space to be.
During the Focusing session, I realised that I had taken on my partner’s feelings about her feelings.
She was struggling to accept them and something in her could not bear to have them there. I could then say hello to my own feelings, and recognise and accept what was mine, and let go of what was not mine, that I had taken on.
I was no longer struggling to get out from under the burden of the feelings. I felt easier and clearer.
And it is a wonderful feeling when you are able to be in tune with your Focusing partner, following her process, and both of you keeping company together with what is arising, moment to moment.
You can be empathic, without getting drawn in to the drama, and you can be surprised, alongside the Focuser, with what comes, seemingly out of the blue, to bring a small shift or some new sense of resolution.