I was looking through the journals that are a part of the curriculum for the Bay NVC Leadership Program, and came upon this question: What is your understanding of NVC empathy? I have answered this question so many times that I just glossed over it, as I would a worksheet with the question: 2 +2 = ?. I have such an emotional feel for what empathy is, that the word and the feeling that goes along with it are one and the same, just as 2 + 2 and 4 actually feel like the same exact thing, there is no difference between them, so its pointless to translate.
As I continued to look through the journal prompts, though, I felt some discomfort arise in me. If I want to teach NVC, I better be able to explain what empathy is verbally, since I can't communicate this felt sense telepathically. So I started trying to write how I felt when I thought of NVC empathy. What came up to the surface is that empathy is healing. Soon I realized that to me, they seem like synonyms. Empathy is healing and healing is empathy.
What is healing? Think of all the healing tools you've ever heard of: massage, EFT, even a hug. All of these things have an empathic element to them. They allow space. They say yes, when they are effective. The massage therapist says "yes" to the pain, by being gentle with what hurts, providing movement and touch that works with the pain, rather than against it. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) also says yes, yes to our realities, loving and accepting all our of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. And a hug definitely says "yes," definitely allows space.
Empathy is spaciousness, spaciousness for whatever is real, and in that space, healing occurs. I might go so far as to say that it is the only time when healing can occur. Other treatments--approaches that say "no" to the experience, such as certain types of affirmations, or any type of healing arts practitioner that says no, don't work, they make it worse. Think of a massage practitioner who keeps applying pressure when you say it hurts--not only would that be wildly out of standard protocol, most people experiencing it would probably not go back to that therapist, not feeling physically safe with them.
Similarly, listening, to be empathy, must say "yes." Not agreement, as we always say in the NVC community, but validation of the person's experience. Agreement that they are having that experience, feeling what they feel! That is why when I think of empathy, I think of healing. Because skilled NVC empathy, in my experience, can accomplish what all these other approaches can, combined--its not specialized like some healing arts, its broadly applicable. It can give a sense of healing to almost any sort of emotional pain, whether a harsh word from a co-worker or the trauma of childhood abuse
Of course NVC teaches techniques to convey this sense of "allowing" using words, and they are very supportive. It's hard to know how to say yes to someone's experience without agreeing with their perspective, if you don't have the tools. If you would like to experience the healing power of saying yes to our experience, and you live in Chico or surrounding areas, join NorCal NVC for one of our upcoming events. I'm doing the following intros this month (February 2013):
"But I Don't Communicate Violently!"
An open introduction to NVC's basic concepts and consciousness. Feb. 16th 5-7:30pm, 2155 Park Ave
Needs Awareness for Direction & Empowerment
Feb. 20th, 2:30-5pm, 2155 Park Ave. A 9 week series will follow this free introduction.
Weekly Drop-in Class: Honoring the Antsy Mind
An empathic meditation class, Fridays (Feb. 8th, 15th, 22nd) 5-6:30pm
For other events that are more current (if you are reading this in the future! Woah time travel!) check out norcalnvc.org