I have a really good friend. I have known him forever and he has been a rock in my life. He is quite a traditional stoic no nonsense man who doesn’t talk about feelings. Recently his dog died and he cried like a baby.
I was both surprised and a bit shocked at the strength of his emotion. I don’t come from an animal loving family and I have never really understood the attachment people have to their pets but listening to his pain made my heart ache!
I found myself talking to him and consoling him in the same way I would as if he had lost a family member, which, as far he is concerned, he has.
I think I have said and done all the right things but I realised that this is learnt behaviour not true empathy. I think I have been authentic about how I have done it because I care about my friend.
This got me wondering if feeling empathy really matters or, is the important thing recognising that the situation requires it and acting accordingly? I don’t really understand how he feels but I do understand what it feels like to lose someone you love suddenly. I don’t understand why he keeps replaying the circumstances under which his dog died and wishing that he had done something differently but I have experienced those feelings of “if only I had done…” he didn’t sleep last night because he was so grief stricken. I have not slept in similar circumstances. So, although I don’t really “get it” I believe it’s enough to draw on other felt experiences and memories and apply them to this situation.
Am I being fake? I don’t think so. I am recognising how he feels, what he needs from me and responding accordingly. As far as he is concerned he is getting an empathetic and supportive response.
Whether I can sustain it over the coming days remains to be seen!