Empathy Barrier

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.

 

Dignity

This week while I was on New Life Live Radio the overwhelming theme was dignity. Or, better said, the lack, degradation and thievery there of. I want to spend a few minutes here talking about dignity.

Here’s the definition: the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.

For too many men, we’ve diminished our dignity through our involvement with pornography, prostitution, affairs and other sexual escapades. We’ve jettisoned our own sense of honor and respect. I don’t know about you, but in my addiction I hated seeing myself in the mirror. I just didn’t like the man looking back at me.

Likewise, many wives have diminished their dignity by being willing to accept their husbands’ wanton disregard for them. On radio, we talked with several wives who’ve resigned themselves to marriages fraught with sexual, spiritual, emotional and physical abuse. They’ve mistaken love for license, and in so doing have lost respect and honor for themselves. Many of those wives seemed to believe that they don’t deserve to be treated with honor and respect.

We are all men and women of worth, simply because God handcrafted us in his image. Neither the things we’ve done nor the things done to us have tarnished our true worth and dignity, it only informed our perception of it as rusty and dilapidated. Those things put blinders of shame on us to see ourselves through a foggy, dysfunctional and errant lens.

Part of our (Shelley and I) healing journey has been to recapture our sense of God-given dignity. I had to decide that I’m worth an intimate relationship with another human being, not just relegated to a fraudulent, empty life of sexual fantasy.

I had to decide, through God’s help, that the women I was engaging with, both online and off, were created in His image and, as such, they were women of worth and dignity. My abuse of them was in fact spitting in God’s face and giving him the bird.

Shelley had to decide that she was worth more than lies, secrets and settling for second best. She had to come to the conclusion that what God said about her is more important than what I was saying about her. She also had to decide that her self-respect and the respect of God was more important than anyone else’s respect on the planet.

I hope today you’ll also recapture your sense of dignity. You worthwhile and honorable, deserving of respect simply as a function of God having breathed life into you.

Disappointment

 

There’s an interesting, confusing dynamic that happens for some men and their wives in the recovery process. It’s about disappointment. Specifically, when the past comes back up; when a wife is triggered, or when something on tv or radio or at church reminds us of how badly we’ve hurt the person we love the most on the planet. We feel disappointed with ourselves for causing our wives’ to feel disappointed in us.

It’s actually an empathic response, but it has a threshold where we can’t handle it anymore.  Many guys, when they hit that wall, will shut down. They’ll sulk and mope, and sometimes even move into a space that looks victim-like. It’ll become a pity-party of one. Others, once at critical mass with the disappointment, will get angry and defensive. This can feel like punishment to an already hurting wife. And for those men, it’s like they are so in the “bad box” (thanks to Bob for that word picture) to be present with anymore of it feels like torture. Their shame has piled up and they can’t see straight, much less actually feel meaningful empathy.

What we want to shoot for is expressing the empathy in a tender and gentle way. To let our wives know that we hurt for them feeling disappointed, not just for ourselves feeling like a disappointment. It can’t be a patronizing, “aww I’m sorry you stubbed your toe” kind of communication either. It has to be connected to the heart. Say what surrounds it. Try to put to words what you wish your wife could know. A client recently said to his wife in one of these moments:

I hurt that you hurt. I hate that you hurt. I hate that I’m the cause of your hurt, because you don’t deserve it. It’s cruel and unfair. You shouldn’t have to endure this.

And he meant it. You could see it in his eyes, hear it in his words, feel it in your bones. Even as the words came out of his mouth you could tell he desperately wanted her to believe it.

She didn’t. But he still needed to feel it and communicate it. For his sake. And because one day she will.