The Path of Empathy

By Jessica Wilkerson, MA, LMFT​

So much of the inner pain that plagues us is actually a sense of guilt and shame for something we’ve done, said, or a promise made and not kept.  Our hearts go around and around, reminding us of the shameful thing in an effort to keep us from repeating the behavior.

Instead of walking towards good things because they are healthy for us and will make us happy, we walk toward the good things in an effort to avoid the repeated experience of guilt and shame.  But in doing so, we bring that guilt along with us.  We are going toward positive things while carrying the weight of our wrongdoings, and when we arrive at the destination it seems to pale in comparison with our expectations or with the way others are experiencing it.

We wonder, “Why is this less bright? Why is it less joyful?  Why can’t I enjoy myself the way everyone else is enjoying themselves?”

And you’re disappointed.  And frustrated.  And feel hopeless.  It’s not fair.

Empathy is the enemy of guilt and shame.

When we keep rolling it around in our minds what we’ve done wrong and what that means about us, we bring all that judgement with us on our life’s journey.  It compounds the hard times and it overshadows the joyful ones.  So what do we do about it?

We let ourselves feel sad about what happend in the first place.  It was a sad thing that this bad thing happened to you or by you.  If we did a thing, and guilt has been carrying with us, then trying to make ammends not only helps to heal the other person, but it fights back that innerself who criticizes our values and worth.  If something happend to us and we feel shame, it happened out of something mean, not out of a reflection of us.  When we think about it being a mean thing, we can allow yourselves to be sad about it.  We can allow ourselves to have compassion for the part of us who has been hurt.  The empathy that follows casts out the guilt and the shame.

As we travel through our lives with empathy for our path, trying to do the right thing, atoning with we don’t, and giving ourselves empathy and compassion for the human part of us that fails, it’s then that we arrive at the foot of those joyfilled goals and we can see their brightness.  We can enjoy them to the greatest degree possible.

Look within, what’s the greatest catalyst to your guilt?  What are you carrying with you that could use forgiveness and compassion?  Start there.  That healing will carry over into freedom within so many other components of your life.

Author: Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #104464
Jessica is licensed in the state of California.

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