Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Empathy & Vulnerability

I've been doing a lot of reflecting recently and that's partly because my masters course is all about being a reflective practitioner. I've been reading about vulnerability and empathy - both of which have given me food for thought.

As someone who prides themselves on having their shit together, I find it very difficult to accept when I feel anything less. Throughout my illness, I'd always seen vulnerability as weakness, and received empty compliments for how determined, strong-willed and disciplined I was. It's ironic that the key qualities of anorexia are idolised by so many, yet when an anorexic is complimented, it often pushes them into a more vulnerable place.

I don't think I'm alone in saying that I dislike feeling vulnerable but what I'm beginning to acknowledge is that feeling vulnerable is key to living a wholehearted life. Without vulnerability, we can never really connect with anyone, feel joy, love or trust. And, I'm positive that most of us want to feel those things, and therefore willing to sacrifice their strong, thick skinned self for these? It's weird because most of us seek out vulnerability in others as the initial way of properly connecting. We admire vulnerability and view it as bravery and courage in others, but in ourselves it's considered weakness and unattractive. Perhaps, we are a little harsh on ourselves.

When someone is vulnerable, it's our ability to empathise that probably makes them feel better in that moment. As a professional, I want to be able to empathise, not sympathise. I want to be with a person who needs my help and let know them know that I'm there with them, it's okay and that I understand. It's okay if we don't know what to say or do because what matters is that we are present.


Empathising also means being vulnerable. It's about connecting with that same emotion within ourselves and letting that person know that they are not alone.

So, if recognising my own vulnerabilities will make for a better practitioner, then perhaps it's not as bad as I (we?) first thought. 

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