Empathy First

I recently had a conversation with a mentor, in which I was the subject. Sharing as I was, I was surprised to find myself feeling increasingly confused and annoyed. I kept talking, and continued to listen to the detailed feedback, but I felt increasingly alone, misunderstood and distressed. Why?

Because the first thing I needed, and expected, I think, was some empathy. It wasn’t therapy, but it was still very personal conversation. I expected more support and companionable sensitivity. Emotional affinity. That wasn’t what I experienced.

So I was reminded – in a very personal way – that the very first thing that I must bring to the therapy or supervision conversation, the first thing I offer to the one who sits, vulnerable, across from me in my office, is compassion. Understanding.

Empathy first. It’s the necessary start of healing.