Learning Empathy

I went to an empathy workshop.

I was at an empathy training workshop last night and the real lessons kept hitting late last night as I was finally dozing off around 3 this morning.  It was a class that found me through the MITT network of classes I started in July.  Through discussion and working on ideas and concepts with others, I get to take notice of my actions, and make changes. I get to see how I look at the world around me and really understand how narrow minded I am.  I get to break the confines of what I’ve always known to experience all that can potentially be.

My judgements kept me from empathy in my marriage.

 

I was hard on my ex.  Ending the relationship the way he did because he wanted happiness and found it in other people throughout our marriage was something I crucified him on. Over the last couple of years as I really got to look at my life, I understood the value of my happiness and I can see that I was depressed through most of my marriage. I loved him.  I just wasn’t happy with myself.  I’ve learned that happiness comes from me.  I can’t borrow it from someone else.  I can’t take from who they are.  I get to make my own and while I can offer a smile, I can’t put it in anyone else. Being apart was a gift but I was so attached to my role as a wife that I looked for my happiness in other ways just as he did.  The reality of his action in a marriage of our mutual inaction was a gift and without malice I can see the ways in which he fought for our mutual happiness.  I can no longer blame him for the many ways he gave me more than I asked for in the life I now get to live.

My self guided tour spends a lot of time in selfishness.

Through a self guided transformational exploration of who I am, I no longer find my value in what others think of me.  They have no point of reference in judging me and have no idea how to value me.  I am not my college degree.  The time I took to earn it was a challenge and it was emotionally rewarding, but it’s a piece of paper and means little in my job search.  I’m not my relationships.  There is value in my relationships, but my relationship with myself means more than my relationship with anyone else.  I’m not my looks.  I like attention as much as the next person, but being a sex object when I feel so much better about my thoughts and ideas that are often ignored is never a good feeling.  I have a large brain and feelings!!!!

As a wife I was very selfish and couldn’t see it without empathy.

I was rebellious in spending in ways that made me happy, justifying it as household necessities, knowing he wouldn’t see it that way and hiding all evidence of that debauchery.  For both of us, it was about control.  I did it in small amounts I felt could be justified.  He never saw the value I did and saw all of it as the deception it was.  I wanted my home to be a place I wanted to escape to, and he wanted to escape from it. I sucked my time and energy into side projects like making soap with fat and lye.  Or learning all about keeping bees and chickens. I would garden and do all I could to ignore the chaos and the lack of support I felt in my own home. I would read books back to back so I could check out of reality and school became a priority.  He wanted connection and found it in other people and I always held the idea that I did nothing wrong in isolating him because I did it in learning and ways that I felt were important to me and my family and I didn’t devote energies to other people and that meant I was faithful, right?

Last night in an empathetic perspective shift, I realized that he was looking for something to pull himself out of a marriage that wasn’t satisfying to both of us. For him, it meant walking away in the ways he needed to. For me through my attachments to being the wife I wanted to be, it was on my birthday this year when I decided something so terrible and irreparable had happened that I could justify the end of a marriage, because being rejected and abandoned for 11 months wasn’t enough. It was such a bad situation for both of us that something so drastic had to happen to justify walking away.

Empathy means I get to be vulnerable and release both of us.

I learned that through empowering myself, I have become the bully I felt he was being to me.  I get to take notice, and stop being aggressive when I know fighting back is a choice.  I know I can defend myself and I no longer need to. I shifted my perspective just enough with the help of someone else, I was able to forgive him on a level I didn’t realize I had not forgiven him yet. I went through months of repeating to myself, “Iforgivehim, Iforgivehim, Iforgivehim.” But I finally released the rest last night and it was just a perspective shift.  No crying.  No ritual or prayer.  Just a shift that let me release my ego, disconnect my emotions from thought, see it with new eyes, and let the fuck go.

Without empathy there is only selfishness and a commitment to being right and it is a pattern I took into my last relationship.

I had a boyfriend for a few days this week.  I don’t actually write about my relationships until they are at the point where I am ready to release them.  I hold close what I intend to keep and the moment I start writing, I know they may see it and not like what I have to say and walk away. With each of them, I’ve already seen enough to feel he’s not the one. It’s like a last ditch effort for me because the most attractive thing I could hear is “I’ve read your blog and it’s what makes me like you so much.” It was something I would have never heard in my marriage and it means probably more than it should now. I heard that in the last week and it was the most intense and short lived relationship I’ve had since my marriage.  There was one night that is a gift I will unwrap in memories for a very long time.

The workshop I signed up for was sent to me as a message on Facebook and I got the alert while next to the man I was with.  I brushed it off, but the next day signed up anyway, fully knowing that I may be with my boyfriend, but also knowing there was a chance I wouldn’t be.

How I met my last boyfriend.

Wednesday of last week I was doing my usual right and left swipe on a dating app. There was a man that was dragging out the conversation with a sentence a day for a couple of days.  I pushed and almost asked him out that night, giving him room to be dominant and actually do the asking.  He did and it was immediately attractive, even if the face in his profile picture was in shadow and hard to see. We ended up meeting at a bar, and as I learned from a friend that shared the workshop with me (as we continued our night at an epic viewing party in Beverly Hills we crashed), that was when I started rejecting him.

Rejecting and pulling him closer was selfishness.

It was that first gut check reaction when he stood next to me and said hello while I was looking in a different direction, and I flinched when I saw him.  It was in the ways he moved closer to me and I moved back.  It was in leaving and using my tone of voice and body language to flirt with another man, through innocuous conversation right in front of him.  It was as we were walking to our cars and his parting kiss was rebuffed in my excuse about public displays of affection.  It was in celebrating and laughing at going home by 10, asking my friend that works at the bar about that beautiful man I wanted to get to know better and a Facebook post that was a direct dig at the man’s character.

Stopping my dysfunctions is something I get to work on.

Somehow the next day I went out with him again.  I loved his dominance in telling me he would pick me up.  I was talking to two men about him.  At one point I wanted to date them but ended up sticking them in my friend zone.  They told me I should go and I was deciding against him before giving him a chance the way I did to them.  I had nothing better to do and so I met him on a second date.

But he was so good in so many superficial ways.

The physical chemistry was there.  He had a body I could cry over.  (I might have when things ended.) The third date was following a familiar pattern and when he asked me to date him exclusively, I said sure.  I mean, he was my first actual date that got a second date since that beautiful but barely understood Italian man back in May. I had coffee, and hugs in the week before, but those weren’t dates as much as meeting platonic friends I would never meet again.  It was easy to date him exclusively.  It followed the pattern of my boyfriends in Junior High.  Being his girlfriend meant no one else could steal me away.  Being my boyfriend was cool because no one else was asking me out.  I like to focus on one love interest at a time anyway.  Everyone else was just mental aerobics in bouncing from conversation to conversation.

We didn’t really talk and I never allowed him close to me emotionally. I said yes to all he asked of me, without really considering the image of the future he had in mind.  He gave me a poetic moment and it just chipped away at the ice around me.  I nearly melted at his words and given time and really given the opportunity to step away from my judgement of him, it could have been special.

I rejected him in the ways I talked about him.

I told family and a couple of friends that I had a boyfriend, but the reality was I knew it was temporary and described it as such to everyone that I talked to about him.  I only told my family because I wanted to spend New Year’s Day with him and invited him to join us. When my kids met him, my youngest had a gut check that didn’t trust him (he blamed it on the shape of my boyfriend’s nose), my oldest hid from him in the bathroom and his bedroom and my middle son gave him a classic autism dismissal.  He was a non person to my kids because they knew he was good enough for me, which he really was, but not good enough for them. I actually told them this.  The reality is he made me want to be selfish and enjoy him, going against my better judgement as a mom and not putting my foot down and saying no when he asked about meeting my kids.  At the time he said he wanted to grow a full relationship and make me his woman and start a family and all of that.  Instead I prepared them by saying they didn’t have to worry because he’d never be their step-dad because I didn’t think he was good enough for them.  I get to look at that on it’s own. This was me rejecting him again.

The day he rejected me was when the cost of my rejections of him broke over me.

There was a dynamic shift and Tuesday night after we were exclusive for maybe 5 days, he broke it off because he wasn’t comfortable with my male friendships that he saw as disrespectful.  And I didn’t take it well.  I mean, I could see the jealousy and the ways that it would have grown into an abusive relationship because there was nothing deceptive in my friendships when I was clearly choosing (and simultaneously rejecting) him. His rejection was immediately seen as a gift because he was able to walk away when I knew it was right, even if I really didn’t want him to. But he let me go before I was ready for him to.

I don’t usually cry for the men I talk to and date.  I see the lessons they leave and there might be a bit of sadness, but rarely tears.  This was different. This was rejection and abandonment.  This wasn’t me seeing him on a moment to moment basis, but actually imagining a few days ahead. I had this disconnect between what I knew wasn’t a relationship I was really invested in and the emotional pain from the loss of it.  I didn’t beg him to take me back but I let him know I didn’t want to lose him.  It was the first time since I started dating that I meant it more than I wanted to.

Last night I was getting ready to leave and sat on the floor of my shower crying for a relationship I never wanted to grow.  He was fun, and I loved the way it felt to be in his arms and the many other things he made me feel, but I was objectifying him completely.  The moment I felt it was mutual, I felt a familiar ache that had nothing to do with him. I felt in the reflection of my rejection all of the pain I must have given him and I was shattered. There was a lot of good in him but in my rejection, I never closed the distance to really appreciate him.  He was tender and affectionate.  He was tall and I really loved his body.  He was capable of taking care of himself, even if I saw the ways in which I would live his life differently. He was mine, and then he wasn’t and that wasn’t a choice I made for us.

I was still blinded by my selfishness.

I left the workshop feeling like I needed to give myself empathy to put the relationship and all it was supposed to be ahead of the things that were important to me as an individual.  After a reality check from a friend in the many ways I was rejecting him, I knew I was being an asshat and not giving him an ounce of the empathy he deserved.

Last night I went to the workshop I had a feeling I would be at anyway.  I signed up for the class knowing that even though I had a boyfriend, the relationship might not last that long.  I don’t know that I would tell him any of this.  It’s not that I’m showing you all I am an asshole.  I’m okay with being authentic.  I’m not really a nice person all the time.  Some people think I am because I can be, but it’s a choice. Part of me wants to make him feel better about the ways I rejected him.  I know that it is about relieving guilt and not for him. Part of me wonders if he saw it because until it was pointed out to me last night, I really couldn’t. Part of me wants to give him the power of his rejection.  He made an empowered choice for his life and I need to give him that.  The rest of me wants to honor the many ways he affected me and taught me to shift my perspective, even if he has no idea he did.

It’s amazing what stories make sense when you go through a situation and what a perspective shift can do.  In the class, I learned that empathy isn’t draining if you exchange it with vulnerability. Seeing things with compassion, understanding and love is a gift I get to give to myself.

Hopefully you can learn from me too.

Think of a person you have a hard time seeing eye to eye with.  Give voice to your frustrations.  Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Then flip it.  Ask what they would say you are doing to make them feel the way they do.  Look at them with love.  There’s a reason, or maybe there was a reason that they mean enough to get under your skin. See their world the way they do and let go of the idea you are valued for being right.  That is what empathy looks like and in my case, it’s got a heavy dose of guilt.

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