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6.4 Naming the Feelings

You can practice showing empathy in your relationships any time, and the more you practice it, the easier it will become.  When the other person makes a statement (especially one that shows some feeling or might have strong feelings hidden within), respond with, “So you’re saying ‘I...’ ” and state in your own words what the other has said as if you were that person. By saying it in the first person (“I”) you will strengthen the feeling of empathy. Here is an example:

Tom: “Dinner’s not ready yet, is it?”

Nancy: “Are you saying, ‘I’m really hungry, and I’m frustrated that the food’s not ready when I am’?”

The second chapter of Genesis adds Adam naming the animals: “Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field” (Genesis 2:19-20). The teachings for New Church ex-plain this: “Animals symbolize the contents of the will, birds the contents of the intel-lect. Bringing them to the human to see, so that he could call them by name, means granting humankind the ability to recognize the nature of those feelings; the fact that he gave them names means that people recognized the nature of the feelings” (Secrets of Heaven 142). While animals share many emotions with people, people have the unique ability to reflect on their own emotions and recognize their quality, and also to recog-nize from compassion what others are feeling.

One of the great gifts you can give to another person is to name that person’s feel-ings. Often feelings are communicated non-verbally, in tone of voice, gesture and facial expression. Just saying, “You look worried,” “Are you afraid?” “So that really makes you happy...” or similar words can give a name to feelings that are just below the sur-face, help people feel really heard, and even help them recognize their own emotions better. Here is a three step process for showing empathy with another person:

  • Show that you are listening. Give complete attention to the other person and “mirror” what the other person has said by repeating key ideas. Invite your partner to go deeper by saying, “Is there more about that?”
  • Show that you understand. Summarize the person’s message or put it into your own words. Help your partner feel understood with words like, “It makes sense that you...”
  • Show that you empathize. Notice words, looks and gestures that show emotions. Imagine yourself it your partner’s position. Name the feeling: “You’re saying, ‘I’m sad/joyful/hopeful/upset...’ ”

Try to do this once a day with your partner, even if you can only do it for 3 minutes. Start with feelings and issues that are positive and agreeable. Leave the difficult issues and hard feelings for after you have practiced and established a good connection.