Not sure about your experience, but I have discovered that it’s hardest for me to empathize with others when I’m beating myself up. It turns out the foundation of empathy for others is having empathy for oneself. Who figured? (Not my saboteurs!)
This week I introduce you to the first of 5 Sage Powers that are central to the Positive Intelligence model of mental fitness. I first define empathy (hint: it’s not sympathy or pity). Then, I share how you can tap into it for yourself and for others.
Why bother spending another moment on this topic of empathy? To reduce your silent suffering and expand your capacity for love. If that sounds like a good enough reason to read on, please do.
It’s not about having sympathy for yourself or another. And it’s absolutely not about pity. Instead, empathy lives within the brain as part of a family of emotions that include compassion, gratitude and forgiveness. It is truly a powerful emotion. Empathy can be accessed once you’ve shifted out of saboteur mode into your Sage brain. If you’re hearing these terms for the first time, or would like a review, I invite you to read earlier posts on these topics.
Once you switch to the Sage brain, activate empathy, you then open the door to being able to use all the other Sage powers I’ll tell you about in the coming weeks. You can consider it a gateway to accessing all the positive emotions and the incredible power of the Sage brain.
How Easy is it to Activate and Access Empathy?
It turns out it’s not easy. Not easy at all. The Judge saboteur, in combination with one or more of your accomplice saboteurs, likes to shut down and block out any possibility of empathy. Why is that? Once you shift to Sage brain, you take the power away from your saboteurs. In other words, they’re hungry and when you shift to positive emotions, you stop feeding the anger, anxiety, self-doubt, shame, and other negative emotions. Those saboteurs don’t like that. And like anyone lucky enough to still be living in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan, your saboteurs fight like hell to hang on and not be kicked out.
What’s the Benefit of Accessing Empathy?
When you feel empathy, you may at first notice the absence of the critical Judge voice. The manipulations of your stronger saboteurs fade away – perhaps still there as a faint voice in the background, but not influencing or controlling you. You remove the barriers between you and your ability to love yourself and others. You feel accepted, understood, worthy.
In other words, you wash away your silent suffering and you expand your capacity to love yourself and others.
How Can You Experience Empathy?
If you’ve read my prior posts, you are familiar with the practice of PQ reps. Last week, I shared how you can use breath, or rub your fingers together, or take a walk in nature as a type of PQ rep to shift your brain to the Sage perspective. So, you might be wondering if that’s how you activate empathy – by practicing PQ reps. It is possible, but usually not until after you’ve done the intensive work to rewire your brain, so that you can more easily and frequently shift to Sage.
In the beginning, and as a way of bringing your empathy back online when it is absent, there is a powerful exercise that Shirzad leads you through in the full Positive Intelligence mental fitness course. It is not possible to recreate that powerful guided exercise with words in a blog post. However, I will describe its basic approach here so you have an idea of what is involved.
Take yourself back to a time in childhood that was full of joy and freedom, absent from the pressures of academic performance and the adult world. Strip away the societal expectations, the parental expectations, the self-imposed restrictions for what was not possible in your life. Strip that all away and connect to the deeper, innocent, pure essence of who you were as a young child. Really tune into that underlying beautiful nature inside of you. See yourself as this child. Connect to the feeling underneath, and you will likely notice the spark of empathy.
For many people it’s not so easy to connect to this essence. But for you, it may be possible after reading the words above to have a sense of what is possible.
Once you connect with your childhood essence and activate empathy, stay there and experience how you view yourself, the world, and others quite differently – using the Sage brain.
Likewise, you can activate empathy for others by imaging them as a young child. See their own core essence. Connect to what their inner child wanted in the world, before their family and the world shaped their saboteurs.
As I shared above, this is not easy at first. But it is possible with practice. There is so much compassion and love that comes from activating this first Sage power that I want you too to experience how transformational it can be.
To read about the overall Positive Intelligence model and foundational mental fitness training program, I’ve included an overview of the model on my website. To read past blog posts about the Sage Perspective and the 10 Saboteurs, start here.
*Source: Shirzad Chamine and his Positive Intelligence mental fitness model. Erin completed her certification with Shirzad and Positive Intelligence, Inc. in the spring of 2021 and is now a Certified Positive Intelligence mental fitness coach (CPQC).