The Essentialness of Empathy




Out of sorts. Discombobulated. Uncertain. Anxious. Ungrounded. These are just a few of the feelings I’ve faced these past months of constant transitions and while it’s true that this journey has been full of teachable moments and fascinating experiences, it is equally true that it has been terrifying for me.

Suddenly my life has been filled with nothing but question marks and my routine, which had the comfort of familiarity despite all the difficulties, has been ripped away. All of my emotions were rocketed to the surface and my reality has narrowed down to simply breathing and putting one foot in front of the other forward into the unknown.

It occurred to me as I pulled into my old facility to visit my residents that this is what my residents face every day; this jarring jolt of constant change, this constant reminder that one should never get too comfortable. How exhausting it must be! How difficult to hold onto to courage when everything feels so uncertain all the time!

This got me thinking. Everything that has occurred in my own life has deepened my level of understanding of theirs. Experience, when put to good use, is the ultimate teacher. The DETAILS may differ, but the FEELINGS are the same. I now understand on a fundamental level what it feels like to have my life change in an instant. It all comes back to empathy. If we, as caregivers, use our own life experiences to better understand what motivates certain behaviors from our residents we could cause a much needed paradigm shift in the quality of care. It is that empathy, that ability to connect that is at the heart of what we do. It is the ability to relate through our own experiences that enables them to trust.

I have never met a caregiver who did not have a story, war wounds. I have never met a caregiver who didn’t know what it is to struggle and fall and overcome and bleed. Using these personal situations to strengthen us and build compassion will enhance our abilities. Using them to harden us and isolate from others would be to our own detriment. The choice is our own. By putting the lessons learned from our own struggles to good use, we learn to view them as challenges instead of problems and overcoming challenges is an experience to which everyone can relate.

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