When we communicate we often want someone to understand our inner world… what we think, how we feel, what’s really going on for us… this is inviting empathy.  Quite often when we’re angry, or hurt, we start to communicate in a way that makes empathy less likely… we start with ‘YOU’ (in big angry letters):

  • “YOU drink too much”
  • “YOU just want me for sex”
  • “When are YOU going to tidy your mess up?”

This is communication starting with accusation.  I see that a lot, and almost every reaction is the other person activating all their defences pretty sharpish.  And then it goes back and forward from there and the chance for empathy flies out the window.  It’s a trap that neither can escape easily.

If you recognise this in your life, try changing the emphasis to ‘I’ before ‘YOU’:

  • “When you act aggressively after you have been drinking, I don’t feel safe
  • “When you check WhatsApp right after we make love, I feel used
  • “When you sit with all this mess around you, I worry that you have given up”

Notice the lack of angry ‘YOU’s?  What you’re replacing accusation with is…

  1. example
  2. context, and
  3. the effect on you 

… with you expressing and owning your reaction.  What you’re doing then is to shift the focus and invite the other into your experience, rather than have them retreat behind their defences to feel safe.

So it might go something like this:

“When you go to your sister’s after we’ve had an argument, I feel like we can’t resolve anything”

(example / context / effect)

“… but, unlike you, she listens to me and I need that”

(context / example / effect)

Each is inviting the other to hear the impact of their behaviour and understand when/where the problems usually take place.  And each is offering the other a route to healing. 

In therapy we might:

  1. practice Active Listening (to empathise with the effect)
  2. Plan to manage or get rid of the stress points (context)
  3. Consider/practice/agree different behaviour that supports rather than undermines the relationship (example)

(Btw, this also works really well for communicating positive experiences…

“When you pick me up from the station when it’s pouring down, I feel really cared for”)


Take care


%d bloggers like this: