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Empathy: A Source of Life

Empathy is a great source for building a safe attunement to our partners. It transcends insecure ways of connecting by delving into some of the scariest places — where we’ve learned to protect ourselves.


Like every heartbeat that keeps us alive, we are given so many chances to bond and form connections with those around us. It can be difficult at times, but we are “bonding mammals,” as Dr. Sue Johnson tells us when she addresses the value of secure attachment in her research. Like our own hearts are designed to keep us alive, we believe forming a secure attachment with a loved one revolves around a consistent need for empathy in times of great distress.

If you imagine the blood that flows through your veins, you can see the endless channels of pathways, leading in and outside of this very life force. It manages to regulate a very important process in our body; it protects us by managing to circulate blood through various parts of the human body, providing enriching nutrients to different parts of our human system. When you look at emotional regulation, we see that there is a process here — managing to remain consciously aware of what we’re feeling at any given time, allowing us to manage demands around us and meet very specific emotional needs.

If we’re unable to track this — struggling to pinpoint the underlying emotions and needs at certain times, we can lose sight of our own feelings, and suddenly they start to become a driving force for what we call emotional dysregulation. This is when we see that we are unable to address the emotion happening in the moment, maybe even bottling it up over the course of time and start to become reactive to what’s happening (distressed, angry, irritated, annoyed, resentful). Instead of being able to regulate and manage to track what’s happening in the process, the blood boils and we become curdled along this protective system.

When we’re working on forming a secure attachment with our partner for example, we learn to cultivate a deeper understanding of what is blocking us from attuning to our partners needs or emotions. When we’re unsure at times, maybe we’re confused about how we’re feeling in any given moment, it can be a golden opportunity to reach for our partner for emotional support. In some relationships, we haven’t been given the privilege of this deep sense of empathy for our own emotional struggles.

While we can fortify this connection, some of the protection that takes place in our emotional world is defense. We don’t want to let our partner in, because when we’ve tried to open up, becoming vulnerable and reaching for support, they’ve shut us down and disregarded the emotion and source of our pain at various times in the bond.

Empathy is a great source for building a safe attunement to our partners. It transcends insecure ways of connecting by delving into some of the scariest places — where we’ve learned to protect ourselves.

In therapy, we help partners and loved ones understand what blocks us from building empathy for one another. We have to look deeper than the initial concern at times, trying to cultivate awareness around previous experiences reaching for support and trying to co-regulate safely and securely with another human being. Our most vital connection in childhood is our primary caregiver(s). They are the guidance into understanding our emotions as children and discovering how to meet certain emotional needs over time. We build trust, and we can start to see how someone else will walk through our emotional experiences, using empathy, to drive home the message that you are not alone in this experience. I will walk the pathway with you.

We drive home this message every day with clients, because we believe that there are various curdles in the system at times. Sometimes in our pasts, a healthy level of functioning turns to your new normal of dysregulation. We can become accustomed to disregarding our own emotions, losing sight and disconnecting from ourselves, and our partners or loved ones can be the very people in our lives that catch this and feel hurt and disregarded themselves.

Let’s make space for that history, and please take time to process where you’ve struggled connecting to others, because you missed out on the very lifeforce in your attachment to those around you. Empathy is a compass to great emotional intimacy. It pulls us together when we might be used to pushing ourselves away. Reach out here if you’re looking for guidance and support in your own emotional struggles. Thank you.

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