There is important element in the craft of conversation is Self Empathy. Over the past two decades a growing number of thinkers have suggested that extending empathy towards other people, particularly in conversations, requires a degree of self empathy. If we cannot empathise with ourselves they believe, we will lack the psychological foundations necessary to contact with others.
Advocates of self empathy typically describe it as becoming aware of our own feelings and needs, and not constantly beating ourselves up and judging ourselves too harshly (e.g. not blaming ourselves, feeling guilty, or being consumed by a sense of failure). In some fundamental way, self empathy is about being good to yourself and liking who you are.
Despite its increasing popularity, I am skeptical about the notion of self empathy. One reason is that it strikes me as conceptually flawed. The central meaning of empathy for more than a century, has been about breaking out of the boundaries of the self, and comprehending the feelings and perspectives of other people. It is about looking through their eyes rather then staring into your inner self – that is, empathy concerns outrospection rather than introspection.
A second reason is that it makes the meaning of empathy too broad and indistinct. Once empathy becomes associated with the whole gamut of ways in which we think about our own self worth and internal emotional landscape, there is a danger that it looses its analytical byte and potential as a clear guiding concept for individual and social transformation.
Just as we believe the word empathy should not be simply equated with acts of kindness and every day generosity, and it should also not be watered down to cover the various aspects of what has been described as self empathy.
But this is not to say that how we feel about ourselves is unimportant for our ability to bond emphatically with others. It is just that we need another word. What are the contenders? One is self compassion a term that like self empathy has emerged since the 1990 as a product of our individualist culture, but that may have firmer conceptual foundations.
Drying on Buddhist notion of compassion, psychologist Kristin Neff defines self compassion as having three components; self kindness – being kind and understanding towards oneself in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self critical; common humanity – perceiving once experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating; and mindfulness – holding painful thoughts and feeling in balanced awareness rather than over identifying with them.
As with self empathy, however, we find self compassion a some what confusing idea, because the linguist origin of compassion is to share in the suffering of another person. The second component of Neff’s definition touches on other people suffering but not the first or third.