Definition of EMPATHY: Ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another person. One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience accurate sympathy or compassion.
It is amazing how predictable this affliction is. We can predict with a high amount of certainty what a spouse will say once confronted with irrefutable evidence of a betrayal act. Combined with an “I’m sorry” is an “I promise to never do “it” again”. The second statement is a given: “Please don’t leave me”. It seems ironic that the behavior is antithetical to “Please don’t leave me” yet out it comes, amidst tears and fear. Most of the time the deceived partner is too dazed to really know what they really want; beyond the hurt and the pain to go away. Often times their immediate reaction as odd as it may seem to the average person is to become hyper-sexual believing that have the power to alter their partner’s behavior. Fear takes over and the anger gets shelved, at least for a while. Hopefully somewhere in there one of the two of them will seek help.
What I know is that it takes four things to happen in order for a relationship to survive and heal from such devastation. Firstly the behavior has to stop, and that can only happen with a recovery program. The statement of “I promise I’ll never do it again” though well intended is shallow at best. Self-will and knowledge though helpful is not the answer, only recovery is. Secondly, the betrayed partner needs to be in a group with others who have gone or are going through the same thing. Pre-existing support systems, like parents, siblings, co-workers, neighbors or best friends at the end of the day even though they are well intended cannot help. They haven’t walked a mile in your shoes.
The third part is that the addict has to be able to demonstrate true empathy for the damage they have caused. This is way beyond an “I’m sorry”. It takes time, willingness, work and guidance. And finally if it all goes according to some master plan the victim can find true forgiveness. It all looks great on paper.
This week a grieving wife sat in my room sitting face to face with her estranged husband and listened to his empathy letter. He has been out of the house for four months after a month in an inpatient treatment center in Chester, PA. They have not interacted directly with each other in all that time outside of the supportive and safe harbor of my office. They are both taking this time apart to individually be introspective. With all the earnestness at his command he was fearless and thorough from the very start and in the end, through a veil of raw emotions she said in a quiet voice: I think you finally get it, I think you finally heard my feelings. It went way past “I’m sorry”.
I am hopeful that as this process continues he will finally become the man he always wanted to be and she can come to find forgiveness, cause in the middle of this muddles mess is the sweetest little boy you ever saw.
If you like high level thinking definitions I recommend you take a look at this video: RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilization