Self-Empathy: It’s 3AM and I’m awake

Listen to this article

I think all of us have had the experience of waking in the middle of the night and thinking of things that prevent us from going back to sleep. I call it story telling. We tell ourselves all kinds of stories of things we have done wrong, things we may do wrong, terrible things that may happen to us. It’s like nightmares, but we are awake. Things that really didn’t bother us while we were busy during the day now have the stage they wanted and we are the captive audiences.

Personally, because I’m making decisions all day that impact a person’s health, mine can often be second guessing what I did. I know my husband wakes and worries about all kinds of possibilities that could happen. I think most of you can relate to this. Americans in general are feeling more stress and depression than they did 30 years ago. There are complex reasons contributing to this rising problem, and among the answers is mindfulness.

Nonviolent (empathic) communication as developed by Marshall Rosenberg is not only a way to communicate but involves a consciousness of how we choose to live. A mindfulness. Particularly when we give ourselves empathy. It involves becoming aware of what we are telling ourselves, how we feel about this, and what we need.

Self-empathy is one of the three core components of empathic communication, according to certified NVC trainer Rodger Sorrow, in addition to honest expression and empathy to others. How do we know we need self-empathy? There are some very strong feelings that tell us we are in trouble: anger, guilt, shame, depression and anxiety. When we are having these feelings, our body is telling us our needs aren’t being met. We are disconnected from ourselves, and the life serving energy within us.

How to we go about giving ourselves empathy? The first step is to take a breath or two and then observe what we are telling ourselves. When we pay attention to the thoughts we are having, the stories we are telling ourselves, we can consciously stand back and observe the story rather than being caught up in the story. We don’t look at this story with criticism, but with a gentleness and kindness. This part of ourselves that is telling us the story is probably very frightened, and is doing it’s best to protect us. If you can imagine this it may help you to have an open heart when looking at the story.

Now you can begin to explore what you need by telling yourself the story. If you are feeling anxious, you may need some trust or support, or perhaps even self-acceptance. If you are feeling anger, perhaps you need understanding or respect. Whatever the need is, you will know when you find it, it will resonate within you. Often at this point, by just sitting with this, you will find a calmness coming over you. If you are still having some trouble letting it go, you can start to decide on a strategy to get the need met next time.

I may decide there is something more I want to do in relation to a patient the next day. For my husband, he finds just watching himself and becoming aware of this pattern he has seen time and time again helps. He can tell himself, “There I go again, there’s the worry. Yes, that’s me doing what I do again.” Just identifying the pattern and accepting it’s happening again takes the wind out of the sails. He can then identify his longing to be free from this pattern. Identifying that need gets him self-connected and allows him the space to be open hearted with himself. Sitting with the sorrow of that longing brings him back to peace.

By breathing and focusing on what is actually happening to you in that moment, rather than getting caught up in the story, you will find yourself relaxing and sleep will come again.

One of the most liberating pieces is to see over and over how connecting to ourselves, landing in self-compassion, increases our ability to generate new ideas of how to meet a need exponentially. LaShelle Lowe-Charde