My values # 2 Empathy

“If her past were your past, her pain your pain, her level of consciousness, your level of consciousness; you would think exactly as she does.
With this realisation comes forgiveness, compassion and peace.”
Eckhart Tolle

Over the years I had written down life values I felt I lived by. Included in my list were tolerance and empathy grouped together as being one and the same. I now see them as different. The dictionary defines these values as:

Tolerance: “A fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality etc differ from one’s own.”

Empathy: “The capacity to recognise feelings that are being experienced by another being”

I see tolerance as recognising and allowing someone to be different than you; while empathy as feeling the emotions of another to gain a better understanding of them.

I  had previously considered myself a tolerant person, accepting people regardless of their age, sex, religion, beliefs, culture or nationality. However, in the months after my marriage ended, I found my tolerance to people who did not think in that same manner dropped very low. Moreover I became quite intolerant of people who showed aggravation to others, gossipers, or anyone who displayed an attitude of exclusion. Herein became the paradox of my own tolerance. I was showing tolerance to everyone except those people who were intolerant. I was (by definition) displaying intolerance.

On the other hand, having gone through one of the the most painful periods of my life, my empathy grew. Empathy goes further than tolerance. To be empathetic, you have to get inside the other person’s situation, inside their head, you need to feel their feelings and think their thoughts. In doing so you gain an understanding as to why they think and speak the way they do, why they act the way that behave, why they have their attitude. Instead of writing these ‘intolerant’ people off, I started giving them my attention. I asked questions about their home situation, their background, the week that they had just had, and any grief they had endured. As I had felt my own pain, I found that I could now empathise more with others pain, with their feelings of loss, with loneliness, with abandonment, with grief, with being wronged. I was now more able to understand them and their humanity.

When you empathise with a person, you do not have to accept their actions, you do not have to agree with their point of view, you do not have to agree with their conclusions or their choices; and most importantly, you do not have to abdicate your own needs or your own values. However, by displaying empathy for that person you gain a greater understanding as to why the person behaves or thinks the way they do or did. Once you gain that understanding, you gain tolerance of them as people; yet you may still stand firm on not tolerating or accepting any adverse behaviour they may display.

What about tolerance and empathy towards someone who has mistreated me?
What about my attitude to my husband leaving me without warning or discussion?

I have over the months reflected on what he must have been feeling at the time, what his state of mind must have been, what anguish he must have gone through, to have put his own perceived needs ahead of me, our relationship, our family and his previously held values. True empathy allows me to grasp all his feelings, even the negative feelings. True empathy gives me the understanding that it was never ever about me and was always about him. True empathy allows me to regain tolerance to others, and to once again tolerate him as a person, as a person who is different than me. True empathy, given time, may translate into compassion and may be a key to my transformation.

I resolve that empathy, with its tag-along of tolerance, are two values I will live by.

We pass on the  values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that you’re strong not by putting other people down – you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility. Barack Obama

I am an (empowered) introvert

“You will find her outside sitting on a large rock looking out over the water or inside looking out the window with a pensive appearance….. Yes, I like this person very much. She is me.”   ‘Donna’ from “Introvert Power” by Laurie Helgoe

It is not news that I am an introvert. What is a revelation, what is empowering, is that for the first time in my entire life I am totally comfortable being that introverted person, happy with how I feel, and glad that I am now able to live the way that is right for me.

Society tells us that to be successful and happy is to be daring, adventurous, decisive and sociable. To be ‘sociable’ you need to belong to some sort of group of friends, family, community, or work group. To be accepted within that group you need to interact with the group as a group, be prepared to speak up, and enjoy engaging in large social gatherings or attending ‘parties’.  Organizations encourage teamwork and networking. Schools encourage children to participate in teams. Parents urge them to socialize. Social-media platforms enhance this concept.

This is the world of the extrovert. Extroverts are people who obtain gratification from outside themselves and are energized by human interactions, large social gatherings and parties. Coming from the loudest voice – the extrovert voice – it is often taken as being the normal way to think, live, act. In reality it is simply the best way to think, live, and act for half the population. This is not the way for the other half of the population – my half.

Some 50% of us are introverts. Introverts are more reserved, less outspoken in groups and take pleasure in solitary pastimes. They become energized through reflection and feel overwhelmed by too much stimulation and time spent with large groups of people.

Some of the people who have been closest to me have been extroverts; my sister, my two childhood friends, my best friend as an adult, and my husband. Extroverts and I have been drawn to each other. They talk. I listen. They react with emotional highs and lows to the ups downs of life. I smile and carry on. They pursue exciting pastimes and draw me in. I radiate calmness and pass it on.

In my commitment to our marriage it was easier for me to understand my extrovert husband’s need for constant stimulation and requirement to socialise than for him to understand my need for being alone. This is because he talked. I listened. I understood. I adapted to his world. I lived and shared with him the exciting world of fast-paced activities and constant socialising. When at the end of a busy week, I did not want to go ‘out’, I thought there was someone wrong with me. When I did go out and exhaustion overcame me, I battled on. In time, I forgot, and did not understand my own needs.  I lost myself without even knowing that I had.

When I have felt overwhelmed since our separation, some of my closest people have made suggestions to me of what I should do in order for me to thrive again – engaging in some exciting activity, travelling and being surrounded by people. I have slowly discovered that what is actually best for me is exactly the opposite – I require quietness, no stimulation, and time to myself for reflecting. Slowly I am discovering me.

I am not shy, anti-social or depressed. I am simply an introvert. I enjoy time to myself. I enjoy solitude. I have a preference for surroundings that are not over-stimulating.  I work best alone on focused projects. I do not like loud noise or a lot of confusing activities. I like time to think before making considered well-planned decisions, before taking action. I like time to think before I speak. I prefer to relax or ‘wind-down’ after a day’s work by reading or writing or going for a walk rather than going ‘out’. I prefer holidays doing quiet activities rather than engaging in frenetic pastimes.  When I do engage, I enjoy myself but I need to recharge afterwards by having quiet time. I like to engage one-on-one with people and share ideas on topics that interest me, rather than small-talk with many people at the same time. I listen well and I empathize well with another person’s position. I prefer small social activities with one or two close people rather than large social functions. I enjoy best weekends with no commitments so I have plenty of time to think, write, reflect, plan.

I have much left to contribute to this world in my quiet, slow, methodical fashion. I am not enticed by being the centre of attention, a desire for accolades or wealth. I am dedicated to a larger goal of finding a purpose to my life.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.”

from Part 5 ‘Song Of The Open Road’ by Walt Whitman.

I am woman

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start”.
Nido Qubein

Since the separation from my husband I have reflected often on who or what I am.

Having been with him some 40 years, having had 4 children together, and having worked and synergized together on so many worthwhile projects;  I had previously seen myself as half of a couple living in tandem; and in the roles I fulfilled as a wife and mother. With my husband gone and my children grown, I felt lost as to who or what I had now become.

It took me some time to see myself as an individual, rather than as half of a couple. In reaching that point, I came to the realisation that for many years – in the commitment I had made to my marriage – there had been for me an overwhelming feeling of responsibility for the happiness and needs of my husband. I was often caught up in seeing all life episodes through the lens of the effects on him. At times, I even I began living my life through his values, standards and priorities. These were not necessarily wrong. They were just not always the same as mine. As such, and with my quieter personality, I often went unseen and unheard with my real self melting away.

Now I have the opportunity to live by my own true self and to become the person I have always wanted to be.

Who is that person?

I thought in answering that question, I would begin with who I am right now that I cannot change. Then I can take a look at who I am inside me that I can change if I want to, or not if I do not want to. Then with the strength of that inner core, I may take myself on a wonderful journey of discovery as to who I would like to become.

This is who and what I am now that I cannot change. This is the point from which I will start the next part of my journey:

  • I am 58 years old.
  • I am an introvert.
  • I am a woman

I Am Woman
-Artist: Helen Reddy. -Words and Music by Helen Reddy and Ray Burton

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
’cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

You can bend but never break me
’cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
’cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul


I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my lovin’ arms across the land
But I’m still an embryo
With a long long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to I can face anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman
Oh, I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong

I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong
I am woman

Week 32 – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Week 32 – 27 April 2012

Having experienced a downturn in my moods in the journey of my life since the collapse of my marriage; I decided to escape temporarily by visiting my second eldest son living in Vancouver, Canada.  Whilst ever so happy to see him again and quite excited, I experienced a new wave of emotions the first few days as I battled a loss of sense of place. I had survived the emotional turmoil of my whole life being turned upside down by clinging onto my daily routine and nurturing myself with familiarity. That was now gone and my mind was again in turmoil. I had always enjoyed travel and experiencing exciting different things. What was wrong with me?

Away from all the chaos of my disrupted life, I now had some time to reflect upon things and I began exploring the theme of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Maslow was a psychologist who came up with a pyramidal concept of a hierarchy of needs. There were five initial levels that later evolved to seven that (working from bottom to top) encompassed basic needs (physiological, safety, love, esteem) and then the higher growth needs (cognitive, aesthetics and self-actualization). Maslow postulated that one’s lower needs had to be met before one could move on to the higher level needs. Here is a an outline of the hierarchy.

5.                                                        Self-actualization

4.                                      Esteem: achievement, independence

3.                          Belonging: love, family, relationships, intimacy, affection

2.                    Safety needs: protection, security, stability, financial security, order

1.             Biological and Physiological needs: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep etc

It has been reasoned that at a time of crisis, say after a flood or earthquake, people’s needs return to those very basic – for food, water and shelter – as they begin to rebuild their lives. At those times they have little need for self-esteem or fulfilling their highest potential by self -actualizing. Gradually as basic needs are met, then one can move onto the higher levels of a safe environment, then companionship.

I had thought about this at times since my separation and I am learning that the ending of a marriage is similar to such a crisis, especially if it is unexpected and sudden as in my case. It rocks the very foundation of your life and threatens everything you ever had; self-esteem, family, companionship, emotional and financial security. As everything comes crashing down, to cope and survive you cocoon yourself by returning to the basics of life – living in the moment of waking, eating, walking, eating, and the comfort and security of a warm bed at night. You are thrown into a survival mind-set of fulfilling these basic needs because everything else is gone.

I was finding that it was helping me to actually accept this fact and I began rebuilding my life by starting with those basics needs and ensuring they were met first in a positive way to give myself a strong foundation before tackling those needs higher up – so refocusing first on breathing (it meant I was alive) and food (sticking to a good diet), my health, and a safe secure peaceful home environment. At the same time, although it’s a little higher up, focussing on my family.

I thought that after I had healed and become strong at those basic levels, as the pain eased, I could move on to my physical, financial and emotional stability; then hopefully my social needs and regaining my self esteem. I could try to begin to move up the levels and focus on getting my finances back on track and seeking out new friendships, new interests etc, one step (or one level) at a time……  That was my theory as I grappled with the concepts of my lost previous life and my now unsure financial future.

So here I was in Canada spending time with the missing link in my family, my second son, and away from the immediacy of my life’s trauma. Why was my mind racing in turmoil again? Why couldn’t I sleep?
Then I realised I was craving that lowest level of the hierarchy, that feeling of comfort and security in routine and a sense of place. By coming over to visit my son, I had been thrown into the unfamiliar.
When all your world is travelling along merrily, when you have your home and your life companion, your finances secure, your job to give you satisfaction, and some creative outlet; then taking a break from all that by travelling and doing different things is both rewarding and exciting. Less clear is the fact that you are actually taking your basic needs, your  security with you …… that is if you travel with your soul-mate ……..because your life’s security goes with you; and you have this inner core of happiness and stability that you take with you wherever you go.
After a marriage collapse, that is all gone and you are left with a shell of your former self. One props oneself up with superficial pillows to ensure that one does not break. And until those pillows are taken away you do not realise how easily that fragile shell can indeed break.
This is what happened to me in those first few days I was in Vancouver. My props were gone, my home, my routine, my sense of place.
In that fragile place, sometimes it seems a little sad to do things by yourself that you would normally enjoy and so you refrain from doing things, you hold back, because there is no-one to share things with. So you have to push yourself to take that first step. The first step is the hardest. So after a few days when i decided that this emptiness feeling was silly, I pushed myself to learn to navigate my way around the bus routes through North Vancouver to Vancouver, to shopping malls, to grouse Mountain and Capilano bridge. I got myself into a little daily routine of morning activities, then go out and about, then come back via the local shops for any shopping needs and then the evening meal with my son and his girl-friend.  I cocooned myself with the same basic needs level of food – shelter – warmth – security – companionship – routine albeit that I was now in a different environment.
And — believe it or not —-  with time to myself during the days — and away from my trauma —  it was here that I began drafting my blogs in earnest and I ‘published’ my very first post soon after.
So here is where I think that maybe Maslow got it wrong. Because here I was at the very bottom of his hierarchy needs, at the very basic level of survival, with all the middle levels crumbling at my feet; and that is when I went straight to the very top level – on to self -actualization (after-all that isn’t that where all of us bloggers are?) …. and that is when I began to heal.