Healing is hard work. I know from experience. My daughter started getting hemiplegic migraines at age 11. Besides the aura and horrible pain, she would be paralyzed in half of her body for hours. Western doctors assured us that the migraines “weren’t harming her.” I, who never took my eyes off my daughter, can assure you, they were. Traditional medicine offered preventive meds with horrible side effects. I shudder to think of how she’d be today if she started those drugs at 11. We said no thank you to all of that and began a holistic healing journey. Around that time, perimenopause hit me like a ton of bricks. I needed healing too. So, we were in it together. Fully. With empathy.
Empathy is Human
What is empathy? Empathy is the ability to feel and understand the inner emotional experience of another, and have an appropriate emotional response. Empathy was translated from the German word Einfühlung , meaning “infeeling” or “feeling into,” coined in philosopher Robert Vischer’s PhD thesis in 1873. Empathy represents a complex soup of cognitive, emotional, and physical responses that are a unique part of the human experience.
Empathy is generally differentiated into two major components. Cognitive Empathy is a thinking activity. Some people call it imaginative empathy. Affective empathy is a feeling activity. When your child is hurting and you hurt too, that’s your affective empathy talking.
Empathy is Healing
Empathy heals. How? Have you ever been so sick, you could barely get out of bed, but then somebody understood? Somebody helped. Your friend brought soup. Your husband made tea. Your mom called. They didn’t give you pills. They didn’t even physically touch you, but their kindness and understanding helped you remember you’re not alone.
When you’re healing from something more than a cold, it can be a long and hard road. Detoxifying is not for the faint-hearted. Mini victories (a migraine-free month!) can be interspersed with healing crises (the worst earache ever). Moving through fear and uncertainty is difficult. You can’t eat what you used to like or perhaps even do some things you used to enjoy. Sitting alone with those losses feels more like deprivation than progress. With a companion on the journey, it’s easier to keep your eyes on the road ahead. It’s easier to have faith and hope. Friends don’t let friends detox alone. Neither do parents and children.
Empathy is Power
My daughter and I have been side-by-side healing for some years now. Migraines are in the rearview mirror, thank goodness. Hot flashes and many of the other issues of menopause are not my constant companions anymore either. We’re not done. Our toxic world ensures plenty of work to do.
Professional healers come and go. They bring intuition, ideas, and knowledge. They read our tests. They answer our questions. They sometimes understand how we feel because they’ve been down a similar road before. But they do not have eyes and ears on us. We do. Empathy is a contact sport.
We help each other walk the line of detoxing and living life. We commiserate and problem solve when we don’t feel well. We celebrate milestones and little victories. We help each other stay strong while others devour hors d’oeuvres and pastries we don’t eat. We create and share delicious food and drinks that heal our bodies. We look to the future, with some sense of control over health issues that used to plague us. Most of all, we are not alone. Empathy is powerful healing.
What could the healing power of empathy do for you?
By Jacqueline Acho, Ph.D.
Jackie writes and speaks about the power of empathy, including the TEDx talk “A Good Day’s Work Requires Empathy” and the book Empathy Deficit Disorder: Healing from Our Mix-Ups about Work, Home, and Sex.
Jackie built her empathy muscles at home as a child (thanks Mom and Dad), then remembered them as a parent. She continues to practice. Along the way, she brought that power to work, where she has served for-profit and nonprofit clients on strategy and leadership since 1994 as a partner of McKinsey & Company and an entrepreneur. Her current work includes empathy-centered cultural transformation with the Cleveland Police Department. In preparation for this work (kind of), she earned a PhD in chemistry from MIT. She’s a recovering chemist and a grateful yoga teacher.