Empathy, is the ability and practice of placing oneself in another person’s position and/or frame of reference. It is critical to the development of interpersonal relationships, connection, and self-awareness.
However, the experience and practice of empathy may not be comfortable, at times it may even be painful and this is often when issues of co-dependence emerge within family systems and relationships.
When we act to soothe the discomfort of another primarily because it is uncomfortable for us, we leave ourselves unattended to, and begin to make our well-being and sense of self contingent on our ability to regulate the emotional state of someone else.
The fundamental ability to practice awareness of ourselves and identify our own emotional state in the moment is critical in supporting an authentic connection with others and care for ourselves.
This is a skill that requires practice, and when we confuse the experience of empathy with feelings of responsibility for managing or fixing the emotions of another we end up avoiding our own affective experience, and inhibiting the ability of the other person to address and take responsibility for their experience.
As is the case with so much of our lives, balance is key, yet elusive (at least I find it to be!). Balancing authentic regard for another’s experience with care and regard for our own requires mindful practice, attending to our own discomfort, and taking responsibility for the changes we may need to make to be better versions of ourselves.