Empathizing From the Left Side of Your Brain
I am a Certified Public Accountant by trade. I tell people that accounting is what I do in my spare time. I don’t know that I would call myself your typical CPA, but I am very analytical – very left-brained. I am not a “touchy-feely” type person. In fact, one of the biggest adjustments I had to make when I started dating my wife is that she comes from a hugging family. That took a little getting used to. I am not a very emotional person, though I do feel things deeply. I struggle with “finding the right words” when talking to hurting people. Let’s just say that empathy is not a gifting that I received from God. That is not to say I am incapable of it, I just have to work a little harder than my right-brained friends who seem to fit naturally in those tough situations.
That’s why I was excited to read the article Not “Touchy-Feely?” Here’s How to Comfort Hurts by Dr. Julie Barrier (http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/dr-julie-barrier/not-touchy-feely-heres-how-to-comfort-hurts.html). In that article, Dr. Barrier explains:
If you are left-brained you may tend to be less empathetic than your right-brained “touchy-feely” compadres …Perhaps it is more difficult for a systematic, consequential thinker to read what is going on in another person’s heart. So…how do you express comfort and empathize with those who are hurting when comforting doesn’t come easily?
You ask questions.
“How are you feeling?” “What are you experiencing right now?” “I am so sorry.” “Tell me about what’s bothering you. I really want to know…” You must also notice the event which cause hurt and be prepared to comfort
As those who work with children, we need to be in a position to comfort them when they are hurting. They need people who can empathize with them. This is particularly true for children of divorce. If you’re like me, with more of an analytical than emotional bent, this article can help you to comfort someone who is hurting. Dr. Barrier’s article addresses several more “grown-up” types of situations – a friend dying slowly, death of a spouse, etc. However, her advice is also applicable to children and working with children of divorce who have suffered one of life’s most traumatic losses. I have taken the principles from Dr. Barrier’s article below and explained how they can apply to children of divorce. So, here are five ways characteristics of those who help to comfort children of divorce.
1. COMFORTERS CARE ENOUGH TO COME UNINVITED.
Some children will be reluctant to talk about their emotions and about the divorce of their parents. You should never force a child to talk, but you should realize that talking about it is a very important first step in the healing process. Don’t wait for a child to approach you to talk about what is going on in their life and in their heart. Approach them, build a relationship, then start the conversation.
Dr. Barrier explains:
Whenever you see hurt, comfort it.
2. COMFORTERS LISTEN CAREFULLY SO THEY CAN MINISTER TO THE EMOTIONS AND NOT REACT TO THE WORDS.
Children of divorce need someone to talk to. That means that they need someone to listen. If you are going to comfort them and help them, you have to first learn how to listen. Don’t rush to offer a solution. Never tell a child of divorce how they “should” feel. Don’t try to “happy them up.” Simply sit and allow them to talk while you listen. We need to learn to respond to the suffering child’s emotions and not the words that come out of their mouths. Many of these children of divorce are so overwhelmed by emotions and circumstances that they have never experienced before that they don’t even know how to express them. Hear their words, but listen to their hearts.
3. COMFORTERS OPENLY EXPRESS THE DEPTH OF THEIR FEELINGS.
Don’t shy away from telling the child of divorce how you’re feeling. “It hurts me to hear how lonely you are feeling.” “Hearing about the choices your parents are making makes me sad.” “I’m worried about you and how you are handling your anger.” If you are a child of divorce yourself, talk to the child about how you felt and, ideally, how God has used that pain in your life. Be willing to get uncomfortable by sharing yourself with the child.
4. COMFORTERS UNDERSTAND, SO THEY SAY VERY LITTLE.
Of all the advice in this article, this tidbit was the most comforting to me. In trying to comfort others, we don’t always have to find the right words to say. Sometimes, those who are grieving (including children of divorce) just want your presence. It is enough just to be there and that they know that you are there for them. Don’t force the conversation. Just be there as a comforting presence and let them know how much you love them. Another thing that many children of divorce crave is appropriate human touch. Give them a hug. Shake their hands. Give them a high five. There is something comforting about human touch. A word of warning about touch – make sure that your touch is welcome. There are children of divorce who will recoil at your touch. Don’t force the issue.
5. COMFORTERS ARE NOT TURNED OFF BY DISTASTEFUL SIGHTS.
Children of divorce come from messy homes. Some are messy emotionally. Some are messy economically. Most are messy relationally. And, some are messy in a more traditional sense as every minute is invested in just getting by from day-to-day and normal hygiene and upkeep are ignored.
When you work with children of divorce, you will work with kids from all types of situations. You will hear stories that will make your heart melt and your anger rise. Don’t shy away from this messy-ness.
John 8 tells of the time when a woman who was caught in adultery was brought before Jesus and the religious people asked Him what they should do about her. Jesus got down and drew in the dirt. Commentators on the Bible differ on what that means, and I don’t pretend to know for sure. But, what if the message Jesus was trying to send us was that sometimes doing ministry means getting dirty. Our job is to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these kids and turn them over to God to lift them out of their messy lives. We can’t do that if we are turned off by a little dirt.
I will leave you with the final words of the article from Dr. Barrier which are applicable to comforting a person of any age:
Don’t be afraid to hurt with someone. Be compassionate. Enter into the sufferings of others as Jesus always enters into yours.
What is the shortest, easiest-to-remember verse in the Bible?
“Jesus wept.”John 11:35. NIV
This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on October 08, 2012.