One of the biggest challenges in the relational recovery process is for a husband to have empathy. I wrote another post about that recently here. I think its important to understand a key barrier to empathy. That barrier is a lack of self-intimacy; knowing our own hearts and our needs.
As we navigate life, our emotions are stirred and we are impacted by the world around us. We have good days, and we also have those days where we wish we had a mulligan. Those tough days, especially, affect us. Our car breaks down and we feel powerless, disappointed and angry. Our stocks go down and we feel the same. Our boss yells at us, or we yell at employees. Or kids. Or our wives. And we feel guilty and remorseful. A deal falls through, a vacation gets canceled, etc. Or perhaps we act out again and relapse with porn, strip clubs or cross-dressing. You name it, the emotional impact of life can leave us feeling hurt, disappointed, ashamed, guilty and fearful to name a few.
Unfortunately, many men don’t give credence to these emotional impacts. A lot of us will cruise through the day, trying to let this stuff roll off our backs, knowing tomorrow we’ll just start over and hope it goes differently. Wash, rinse, repeat for many of us. But along the way, our hearts are hurt. We end up with legitimate emotional needs that never get addressed. Needs like reassurance, affirmation, validation or perspective. And those needs build, functioning like a kettle on a stove. They heat up and heat up, then eventually when the kettle whistles we’re at critical mass and we’ll move into a reactionary posture. At that point automatic processing kicks in and old habits show up – angry outbursts, shutting down, acting out, acting in. All the while, we’re denying our hearts by ignoring them.
Think about it for a second – how can I have tenderness and compassion towards my wife and honor her heart, when I’ve locked my own heart in a vault? If I don’t allow myself to feel then I’m not going to know my own needs. Nor will I get those needs met in healthy ways. Thus it’ll be nearly impossible to be available for someone else’s needs. Especially those we love the most.
So if you’re struggling with empathy, chances are high that you’re not dealing in self-intimacy; knowing your own heart and your own needs. I don’t mean this in a selfish way, I mean this in a serving way. I am responsible to protect and nourish my own heart in order to have gas in the tank to protect and nourish the hearts God has entrusted to my care.
If you are wondering what that even means, I encourage you to talk to your support guys, your counselor and/or your pastor.