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How Far Can Our Empathy Go?

Woman Hand Writing Empathy With A Marker Over Transparent BoardI read this quote today and I had three thoughts almost simultaneously:

“Now, with regard to the people who have done things we call “terrorism,” I’m confident they have been expressing their pain in many different ways for thirty years or more. Instead of our empathically receiving it when they expressed it in much gentler ways — they were trying to tell us how hurt they felt that some of their most sacred needs were not being respected by the way we were trying to meet our economic and military needs — they got progressively more agitated. Finally, they got so agitated that it took horrible form.”
– Marshall B. Rosenberg

1: Wow, I wonder if we could really experience empathy and compassion to the extent that we might transform our condemnation of “terrorism” to a place where we take action based on compassion and understanding that what Marshall Rosenberg is suggesting could be one possible explanation.

2: Wow, how often is this the case in parenting as well?

We are horrified by something “unacceptable” that our child has done and respond out of that feeling. But what if instead we respond with curiosity: What if we paused and asked ourselves the question: what has gone before this behavior? If we then had calm awareness and compassion for what has lead to this point, we might experience the anger, fear and sadness about their behavior slip away like water down the plughole. And then instead we might be able to tune in and hear their pain, disappointment and frustration with new ears.

How might this transform our experience of parenting during challenging moments? How might we slow down and develop our capacity for this kind of parenting?

3: How interesting, if we apply this to ourselves, can we lean in to regrets, shame, and rejection of parts of ourselves with kindness and empathy for the path of hurts and disappointments, large and small, that have lead to this? Can we extend kindness, soothing and compassion towards ourselves, healing what gets in the way of self acceptance and vitality in our lives? How might we turn towards our pain with the kindness and support we would show a dear friend? What freedom from suffering might that bring to our life. What new possibilities might this open up for us?

Knowing the healing power of compassion and demonstrating it when we and our children need it most are not always the same thing! So many things can get in the way of our ability to translate our intention to be kind and caring into the action

The Practice:
Place your hand on your heart and feel the soothing warmth of your touch. As you bring to mind your feelings of hurt, disappointment or pain, imagine what you words of kindness you would offer to a dear friend and say them to yourself silently now. Breathe in that kindness for as long as is soothing before moving on with your day.

This simple practice, repeated often, will gradually heal your pain and make it easier for you to offer this empathy to yourself and others when you need it.

What does this quote bring up for you?

If you would like to know more about healing our hurts with mindfulness and compassion and creating a life we love, please join me here.

How Far Can Our Empathy Go?

Kellie Edwards

Kellie EdwardsKellie Edwards is a facilitator of mindfulness in the family, the workplace and beyond. She runs group workshops and individual coaching sessions integrating mindfulness practices and the psychology of flourishing. She writes a blog with Huffington Post and also other guest blog spots. She is a qualified meditation teacher, a registered psychologist and a member of the Australian Psychological Society. The mother of two girls, Kellie lives in Melbourne, Australia. Visit her website here:

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APA Reference
Edwards, K. (2018). How Far Can Our Empathy Go?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Nov 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.