So I asked myself to quickly write down 5 things I know about myself for sure……and here they are:
#1 I have believed in and studied empathy and emotional development passionately
#2 I have had to explain the death of a parent to a 4 year old and listen to her distress.
#3 I have felt grief that overwhelmed me when I lost a 15 year old child.
#4 I am very honest with myself, emotionally developed, know myself well with good empathy skills.
#5 I am passionate about supporting healthcare professionals and complaints teams to understand how the use of empathy will help in their interactions with patients and families.
So knowing these 5 things, especially #5 you would think that I always handle conflict and difficult emotions amazingly well, never ‘failing’….right???? …..WRONG.
You see being emotionally strong, being emotionally developed, and having understood, cultivated and practised well my ability in empathy, benefits me with good insight and skills, but it does not make me a robot, logical, detached and unfailingly objective – heaven forbid! In fact, it probably makes me the total opposite of a robot. AND YES that really is an image of me transformed on an android website!
At 47 now, I still have many situations that will still evoke an emotion in me, that will make me shout, cry, panic, get defensive and often momentarily want to bolt or walk off from the situation because I can’t handle it. Reactions that most people experience, unless they are a sociopath (whether they admit it to themselves or not).
Trained in counselling and imparting knowledge to other professionals, I have sometimes spent time expecting myself not to have these reactions. To always ‘be in control’ and when I haven’t been, I have been left feeling like a failure and indeed a fraud. ‘how can you help others when you, yourself Carolyn, have not succeeded at handling that situation better’?
But of course, the answer is, that is exactly why I can help people, because I experience and importantly, acknowledge these emotions. The good and the not so good. It is exactly why I know I have emotional strength because I still feel emotions after going through very difficult things and am not an empty shell. I can draw upon emotions from being sat by the side of a river when I lost a child, to being the outrageous life and soul of a party (and everything else in between)!! It’s what I am so passionate about in my training, being human beings in the room together. Being brave enough to be open, honest and transparent (anyone having been to my training or seen me speak at a conference will know that to be the case!!). Working with the Duty of Candour (Openness and honesty when things go wrong) and preventing prolonged psychological harm, dictates to me on an ethical and moral level, as a professional, that part of the learning process needs to be that I, as the person conducting the training, needs to emulate the ethos and requirements of the information I am imparting.
Emotions guide us and are our internal radar – The Amygdala in the brain. They used to help us survive thousands of years ago by feeling fear of danger and although we still live in a dangerous world sometimes, our emotions protect us in other ways. They can of course hinder us too however and that is why the key to emotions is not to not have them or suppress them, but to understand them, learn from them, manage them and work with them alongside your intellect.
Our emotions with intellect can help us understand and empathise with another in a way that intellect alone can’t. and YES we can develop this! Our emotions and intellect can help us learn the discipline of feeling someone else’s emotions and to be able to respond to this, without being so overwhelmed that you take on their pain. This is true human connectedness. And it is a felt process.
But this takes practice and continual development. It requires you to stay in an enquiring mind and ask why?? Why do I feel that? Why might they feel that? What is the best action?
What is important to say is that….
It’s NOT about getting it right all the time. That is impossible.
It’s NOT about being responsible for someone else’s behaviour and emotions
It is about valuing and understanding your own emotions though and in doing so bringing the unconscious into the conscious and always learning.
For those tennis fans out there that watched Murray win his 2nd Wimbledon Final, if he should he never win it again, does that mean that his finally tuned attributes of physicality, emotion and conviction that he worked on to secure such an achievement, never really existed? Or will never exist again? No of course not. They may change, but he will be developing them and learning all the time. He will celebrate and learn from his successes and hopefully celebrate and learn from his failures (even though that never feels as nice!) He will continue to be equipped with expertise and experience to teach and coach tennis students, even if he can no longer compete with the top ranking players of the world. He may not always get the outcome he hopes for, but he will be developing himself nevertheless.
So when you are committed to emotional development (as I am) and being the best version of yourself you can be, I believe that part of that learning curve is acknowledging that you will not always get it right and you will sometimes fail. But in failing….another thing I know for sure, is that you are being pushed. You are being stretched. You are being forced to face tough emotions, and create emotional learning that consequentially place you in a great position to think about it, analyse it, learn from it and guess what, develop into that great, imperfect, but honest human being and not that robot.
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