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Clients Share their Experiences

Testimonial of Learned Empathy

"We were talking in your office about the fact that empathy comes

naturally to many people but that it can also be taught or learned.  I

mentioned that I went through that learning process on my own

and that it was slow and sometimes painful.  Today I consider myself

a fairly empathic person with good EQ (I'm not just taking my own

impression for it, my wife and friends would hopefully corroborate that!)


I mentioned to you that I felt like I could pinpoint the day I "flipped

a switch" and really internalized and understood what empathy

meant and where its true value lay.  Prior to that day, as best I can 

recall, my attitude towards empathy was "I need to understand how

other people think in order to get things done", or some variant of 

"how does empathy get me what I need".  The day I started really 

understanding empathy on a personal level was a year or so after 

college and into my first "career" job.  It wasn't a particularly 

fast process for me!  


A few weeks prior to the day I describe below, I had an experience

at work during which I'd acted like a jerk.  I was talking to one

co-worker about some information I needed, when somebody

else who already knew the answer walked by.  I jumped up

from my current conversation and ran over to talk to that second

individual, without giving a thought to the conversation I had

just abruptly terminated.   


I would never do this intentionally.  I'd always considered myself

to be a nice guy.  I found out that I behaved this way second hand,

when another co-worker and friend was nice enough to call me

on it and ask how I could treat somebody like that.  When he told 

me what I'd done, I was pretty horrified but also baffled as to how or 

why I'd behaved that way.  It was not at all in keeping with my own

"picture" of who I was; my self identity was that I was nice and people

liked me.  I did my best to awkwardly apologize, I'm not sure whether

my apology was accepted.  I found the episode painful and confusing.

I relay this event because it was maybe a catalyst for what 

happened a few weeks later.


The circumstances during which I felt I had an actual gut level 

"realization" were pretty simple and nothing special.  I'd organized a 

small gathering at a club near work and invited some coworkers and

friends.  My effort consisted of little more than reserving a table and 

getting a group together.  At the club, I was in a good mood and ordering

food and drinks for the group and checking in with people as

they arrived.


A friend came up to me and said something simple along the lines

of, "this is great, thanks for setting things up".  She said it

warmly and sincerely, and I felt like she really meant it rather than

just as a courtesy.  I remember at that moment having two 

simultaneous reactions to her comment.  The first was gratification

and feeling good about having done something nice.  The second

was a kind of detached awareness that my usual reaction to a

compliment like that would have been much more automatic and 

that I wouldn't have particularly noticed or enjoyed it.  


I would normally have acknowledged the compliment because that

was expected of me, and treated it as just a formality with no 

emotional response.  For some reason on this occasion (and very few 

times prior to that) I instead was actually warmed by the words and 

felt  good about myself for having heard them.  


The moment I called my "realization" in our conversation, 

was when I suddenly realized that empathy and awareness of

others could be this purely emotional response and have it's own value,

rather than a logical response along the lines of "oh good, I earned

some brownie points there."  It's hard to explain, but I feel that that's

the day I started appreciating positive feedback and contribution to

others as its own merit rather than a "score" or simply the logical

result of a give and take.  It became less important what I got out

of the transaction, and more important that I sincerely wanted to 

create that positive response in others.


I came to the understanding in an intellectual way, that is, I stepped

outside of myself and noticed that I felt good for having earned a

compliment, independent of what else came with it, and that prior to

that I'd been robbing myself of that "benefit of empathy" by only

seeing empathy as an observation of others.  


I hope that makes sense, it's a hard transition to try to describe.

I also think it created a virtuous feedback loop, and that I began

changing in an increasingly empathetic way as I enjoyed more and

more positive experiences.  It still seems odd to me that I had to

"learn" this by observing, rather than just accepting it emotionally.

(My son) ...he exhibits the same 'thinking' response

to empathy and awareness of others that I grew up with, and I'd

love for him to be able to internalize it sooner than I did."


                                                                -Anonymous Client 2013



ECT //  02

"Seeing Teddy"


A story about a young adult with a social learning difference called "NLD" Nonverbal Learning Disorder. A complete misnomer, NLD does not mean you can't talk. Persons with NLD have a hard time reading nonverbal situations, reading subtext, inferencing, predicting and use of other figurative language. They tend to be more literal and sometimes are misunderstood as Asperger's.



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