It seems that most anytime I go on social media there are reminders of some sort. I suppose along with most everything in my life these days I need reminders. And so it is with the CMHA mental health week. Its good to be reminded.
The focus this year is on empathy. I like that. I am always reminded of, and you have heard it before, when a neighbor dropped by and showed me empathy. It was a dark time in my life. I had been on meds for my mental health but thought I was doing okay so went off them. Then I experienced a traumatic event that pushed me towards the abyss.
A few days after that event, a neighbor dropped by to check on me. That, in itself, was encouraging. For some strange reason I took advantage of an opportunity. I began talking. And for close to an hour my neighbor sat and listened. He did not try to provide any type of advice, but showed understanding. He wasn’t judgemental, rather he normalized and validated what I was experiencing. That truly was empathy. That provided the encouragement for me to continue my journey.
Empathy simply means to have the ability to understand or be able to identify with others. When others share with me, I have a tendency to jump in and try to fix their issues. Often I may be judgemental and impatient. When I do these things, I am probably missing what that person needs, just a desire to be understood. To know they are not alone. I need to change that approach. I must focus on understanding how the person feels and why they feel that way. And take the time to reflect. Just like my neighbor did.
However, there is another important message in here. If you are struggling, if life overwhelms or there is just too much stress to face life, you also need to make sure you practice empathy for yourself. Sounds weird, right?
If you are anything like me, you spend an inordinate amount of time beating up on yourself. I have this uncontrollable way of letting my mind run rampant with negative and morbid thoughts. And because I know better than to allow those thoughts, I start bemoaning the fact that I have these negative thoughts and that I am such an idiot for thinking them and such a loser for thinking that I am an idiot and because I am an idiot there is no wonder I am useless at this thing called life. Notice how quickly I can get myself in trouble?
Try using self-empathy. The theory is quite simple. As mentioned above, we have an innate desire to be understood by others particularly during periods of distress. We never outgrow that. Our pain and anxiety reduces the more others understand and care. Our physical health improves when others show they care, when they show they understand, when they reach out to help. Using that same principle on ourselves is just as important.
Let this week be a reminder to show empathy not only for others but for yourself as well. Empathy promotes a feeling of emotional connection between individuals, groups, families and communities. Make an effort to tune in before you weigh in. Be there for others. And most importantly, be there for yourself. Make it a good one.