Empathy in Action: Dismantling “Should”

In celebration of the launch of the second edition of Connecting Across Differences, we’re offering an exercise from Ch 7 “Stepping into the Fire.” Read more about the new edition below, or buy it now here.

You forgot to return the call again?For most people, anger – whether they are expressing or receiving it – is a challenging emotion to deal with. In understanding and practicing empathy, we can learn to harness the energy of this powerful emotion and better connect with others and ourselves.

When we are fully connected to the value of our needs and can begin to explore strategies to better meet them, we’re stepping into the realm of beginning to find joy, insight, connection and learning where there was once only judgment and pain.

1. Think of a situation that’s stimulated you more than once—something you’re angry about. — How do you know that you’re angry? What do you notice in your body?

2. Check your thoughts – if you are angry, you’re likely to find some “shoulds” or judgments — For example, you might be thinking of things that this person, you, or the entire world “should” have done, “I should have known she’d notice me forgetting!” — Write down the “should” you are thinking of

3. Now, see if you can identify which feelings are underneath the “should”? Are you frustrated or irritated? Scared or disappointed? Try looking at a feelings list for reference.

4. Now see what needs are underneath the “should.”

5. Lastly, think of the person who relates to this stimulating situation – coworker, partner, driver – and write this person a letter explaining how you are feeling, in OFNR. Later, you may wish to send it or simply use this practice as an exercise in self-connection and empathy.

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