Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Ramsey felt rejected and alone locked out of Kirsty’s world
Ramsey tried hard to get a soft and loving response from Kirsty. He tried being subservient but she mocked him. He tried being attentive to his partner and interested in what she had to say. Kirsty gobbled it up without even noticing. Ramsey bought her gifts and agreed to take care of things that were a hassle for Kirsty. She barely acknowledged his efforts, intentions or needs.
Locked out of his partner’s world Ramsey felt scared and alone, waiting for the axe to fall on their relationship at any time. He wanted to share his feelings with Kirsty. He wanted Kirsty to share her feelings with him. Ramsey wanted a place where they could come together and share themselves in loving and supportive ways.
But Kirsty feared that place. To her it meant that the boundary between herself and Ramsey would disappear.
Kirsty was afraid she would lose her identity
These were some of Kirsty’s biggest fears of being empathic with Ramsey
- Who will I be if I am just part of a couple with Ramsey?
- How will I know the difference between my needs and those of Ramsey’s if we blur together?
- How will I know what are truly my thoughts and feelings if Ramsey’s stuff is mixed in?
Kirsty’s fear of being robbed of her identity turned her into a non-empathic partner.
The only way she could safeguard her sense of being a separate and independent person was to avoid feeling anything that resembled Ramsey’s emotions.
She couldn’t let herself want closeness because that would be too much like Ramsey.
She couldn’t let herself feel the pain of loneliness as that would be too much like Ramsey.
She couldn’t let herself reach out, trust and be receptive to love because that would be mirroring Ramsey.
Empathy means understanding and sharing not giving up your identity
The Second Component of Empathy
The Journal of Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 2004, lists three components of empathy. The first component of empathy is being able to share feelings. (see previous article) Kirsty shut down her feelings so there was nothing to share.
The second component of empathy is to be able to know and feel the difference between your emotions and that of your partner– holding onto yourself while stepping in your partner’s experience.
It is important that you use your feelings to find common ground and understand your partner’s experience, while safe in the knowledge that they are not identical. You have to be able to hold onto a strong sense of yourself as separate from another person, while allowing yourself to tread in their shoes so you can understand and share but not become someone else.
Empathy means bending together and touching, not merging
How can Kirsty develop the art of keeping herself solid and whole while empathizing?
1. 1. Kirsty can tune into her feelings when she is alone and make a note of the fact that she is having her own experience that no one can take away.
She can write them down, draw them, write poems and or songs etc. to have tangible evidence that it belongs to her.
2. 2. Kirsty can share a poem, song, drawing or writing with Ramsey and ask for his response. They can begin a back and forth exchange that helps Kirsty feel grounded.
Eventually Kirsty will be able to notice that Ramsey’s comments are adding to the mix, not detracting from her original feeling or thought. Together they create an ‘our’ place where empathy can flourish and connect them without depriving them of their individuality.
3. 3. Kirsty can be curious as to Ramsey’s responses and discover what and why he feels and thinks the way he does – all the while noting her own motives that may or may not coincide.
Finding the ‘our’ place doesn’t mean melting into one another and losing yourself. It does mean you create a space and capacity for empathy without which relationships die off.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions that you may have when reading the material or using the suggestions contained in the article. Reading this article does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.