The Difference Between Empathy and Neutrality

Relationships are a high contact sport!Little Girl Peace

When it comes to giving and receiving freely to others, we can get lost trying to find our place between empathy and neutrality.

Empathy, we will describe here, as understanding another person’s situation to the point of vicariously experiencing the thoughts feelings and emotions of that person.

In other words, it is a place of understanding but with some sort of investment—and can include getting tied up in the drama of someone else’s situation.

The neutrality that I speak of is a place of observation with compassion. One can watch the dance without stepping onto the dance floor.

There is a powerful difference between the two. On the one hand, empathy calls for us to engage in and often be affected by drama (generally someone else’s) and begin the process of making their situation “about me.” It can be a little like eating a whole chocolate cake: it feels fun in the moment but the aftereffects are awful!

Neutrality gives us the power to witness, from a protected distance, the suffering of someone else, without projecting our own unfinished business on their experience.

For example, when someone in my proximity (whether a loved one or a coworker) starts yelling or making mischief, I have a few options:

I can try to fix them (about me)
I can try to stop them (about me)
I can look on with compassion and say to myself, “That’s interesting!” and provide a space for them to have an ungraceful moment until they are ready to seek a solution. (about them)
The motives are clear, when we are empathetic; we bring our own investment into the equation. This is sometimes very appropriate. However, if we are to be effective at diffusing situations quickly, the neutral stance is a far more powerful approach.

Neutrality demands breathing room. If we are running on fumes, there is no breathing room and we are of little use to ourselves, much less able to be a healing force for others.

With breathing room, you’ll find it much easier to be in a neutral space and instead of wasting your time and energy cursing situations that can’t be helped.

The idea is to become mindful of your situation and reactions, instead of going with your first reaction in adverse situations.

Your Assignment:

Designate a time of the day when you know you won’t be disturbed, find a quiet peaceful corner in your home, sit or lie down in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Focus completely on the act of breathing, feel yourself relax. With every in-breath, imagine you are inhaling all the stress and anxiety you have stored within your body and mind as if it were benign smoke. Feel it transmuted into sparkling white light and exhale it out and allow it to spread goodness and kindness.

Practicing this exercise regularly will train your mind to switch to the ‘calm mode’ more easily when you are activated. The moment you take a step back and start deep breathing you have given yourself a chance at neutrality.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!