I have always been a proponent of parenting with empathy (over, say, sympathy or more traditional, utilitarian approaches), but I know empathy isn’t exactly what I have been practicing every day in my work and in my life with my children. I hadn’t a better word for it, so I just went with empathy sprinkled generously with love. Not bad choices considering the circumstances, right?
I came across this parable today and it gave me pause to think. I realize now that I have been practicing compassion for the last ten or so years with my children. After you read the parable, see what you are practicing in your relationship with yourself, your partner, your friends, your children.
The Dalai Lama Parable (from an article written by Richard Feloni)
A man is lying on the side of a road, crushed by a boulder. An empathetic person passes by. This person feels the man’s suffering so intimately they are shaken and unable to find a way to help. A compassionate person passes by. This person understands the man’s pain and is driven to help, but is able to remain centered within themselves, allowing them to devise a plan to remove the boulder and get the man help.
Empathy is feeling someone’s state as if it were your own, manifested emotionally; compassion is understanding someone’s state as if it were your own, but with a layer of detachment. It is better to go through the world as a compassionate person, able to confront the plights of others without being crippled by their weight.
Teaching Therapeutic Parenting
All day, every day I work with parents to help them understand their children with compassion and it turns out I am often combatting their empathy fatigue, which I had previously misnamed compassion fatigue. People often ask me how I can raise children from difficult beginnings and still work with traumatized children and families without having a permanent flipped lid or burnout. I usually just smile and shrug. I haven’t had words for it, but I don’t get burned out by my work. In the early years of parenting my children I felt quite a bit of distress and overwhelm; however, somewhere in the middle I learned how to hold my children’s pain and reactivity in a more understanding and detached way, which made it easier to make good parenting decisions with them.
This parable makes perfect sense to me in my life and my work. I have always worked in my office from a place of compassion. At some point, empathy for my children was replaced by compassion and I was able to be both loving and helpful in a way that didn’t use me up and burn me out.
I am hoping you pause to think about this parable and evaluate your parenting. Are you burning out? Have you blocked out the child to save yourself or someone else? Is it too painful to keep your heart open? Perhaps you too are parenting from empathy and a switch to compassion, as defined by the Dalai Lama, is just what the doctor forgot to order. Therapeutic parenting is all about compassion.
YOU ARE INVITED. Open and Free to the Public:
Regulation Techniques for Strengthening Attachment with Hurt & Traumatized Children. Click here for more information.
Presented by Ce Eshelman, LMFT of “The Attach Place,” Sacramento, CA.
Saturday, April 22, 2017 – 10:00 am to 1:00 & 1 to 4:00 pm
TRAINING LOCATION: Woodland Community College – Building 100 – Room 101
Join our monthly Adoptive/Foster Parent Support Group on April 12, 2017! Open to all parents/caregivers at no cost. Support group is every 2nd Wednesday of every month from 6pm to 8pm at 3336 Bradshaw Road, Ste 175, Sacramento, CA 95827. Free child care provided.