Emotional Empathy | Mental Illness

I have come to believe the most important skill to attain emotional and cognitive empathy is learning to listen with the heart instead of the mind. It takes practice to get the mind out of the way, and allow the "love center of the body" to listen. Listen with love. Listen with hope. Listen with the intent to truly understand. This type of listening may even be defined as a spiritual practice.

What is emotional empathy?  It is to feel how another person feels.  Cognitive empathy is to understand how a person sees the world or their perspective.  Both emotional and cognitive empathy are necessary tools to both feel and understand what another human being is experiencing or thinking.

Subdue the logic of the mind,  and allow the love center of the body to tune in

I have come to believe the most important skill to attain emotional and cognitive empathy is learning to hear with the heart.  I am patiently striving to learn this skill.  It takes practice to subdue the logic of the mind, and allow the “love center of the body” to tune in.  Listen with love.  Listen with hope. Listen with the intent to truly understand.  This type of listening may even be defined as a spiritual or meditative practice.  I feel the stronger my connection with the divine, the more my heart opens to understand what is being expressed.  I have noticed regularly studying truths and meditating makes it easier to hear my heart so I can better understand other’s point of view and feelings.  I think this connection with another person happens through a higher energy which I believe is pure divine love working through the heart center.

Gregg Brayden teaches how to tune into the brain of the heart

I highly recommend this video.  He teaches a very short and simple activity to harmonize the heart and brain.

Emotional Empathy

If we haven’t personally experienced what someone else is experiencing, how do we put ourselves in their shoes or have sincere emotional empathy?  Since I have not had a mental illness, I feel the best thing next to loving my son more purely is to learn everything possible about severe depression with psychosis.  I deeply desire to develop emotional empathy or the ability to put myself in Darrell’s shoes in a meaningful way so I chose to enroll in the NAMI Family to Family class to learn more about mental disorders.

NAMI Empathetic Practices

Don’t Criticize

“If there is one single standard to work for in your relationship with an individual with a brain disorder, it is to respect, and protect their shattered self-esteem.”- NAMI, Family to Family, pg.7.17

Don’t press, fight or punish

“With this disease (schizophrenia) there is no fighting. You may not fight. You just have to take it and take it calmly. And remember to keep your voice down…..(Also) punishment doesn’t work with this disease.  Now that I have lived with a person with schizophrenia, it makes me very upset when I see mental health workers try to correct their clients’ adverse behavior by punishment because I know it doesn’t work.”- Patricia Backlar, Family Face of Schizophrenia

As much as possible, ignore negative behavior and praise positive behavior.

I deeply desire to develop emotional empathy or the ability to put myself in Darrell's shoes in a meaningful way so I made the decision to begin focusing on both emotional and cognitive empathy by taking the NAMI Family to Family class.

“Study after study shows that if you “accentuate the positive” people will want to perform the behaviors that earn them recognition and approval.  Many reliable studies indicate that criticism, conflict and emotional pressure are most highly related to relapse.”- NAMI, Family to Family, pg. 7.17

  • Learn to recognize and accept the primary symptoms, and the residual symptoms, of a person’s brain disorder.- “Don’t try to “jump start” someone in a depression, or “shoot down” a person with mania, or argue with schizophrenic delusions.”  Try your best to help your ill loved one recognize the behaviors caused by their illness while accepting their limitations.
  • Don’t buy into the stigma all around you.- When someone has a mental illness, their strange or bad behaviors are not a reflection of them, their parents, or family.  They simply have an illness.
  • Every time our relatives “get better” and show improvement, for them it means that they are moving back into a risk position.- “Being well signals that they might be required to participate in the real world, and this is a frightening prospect for the “shaky self”.  People recovering from mental illness still have the awesome task of accepting what has happened to them, finding new meaning in life and constructing a way of living that protects them from becoming ill again.”- NAMI, Family to Family, pg. 7.17-7.18

Cognitive Empathy

The following video uses role-playing to help us better understand cognitive empathy.  I think you will find this demonstration easier to understand than an explanation using only written words.

Top Featured Photo by Sydney Sims

2 thoughts on “Emotional Empathy | Mental Illness”

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