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Empathy…Men are Terrible!

Aristotle“It is easy to get angry or spend money–anyone can do that.  But to act the right way toward the right person, in due proportion, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right manner–this is not easy, and not everyone can do it.”  -Aristotle

My wife just recently read this quote to me as she was homeschooling our son and she said, “You are not good at this.”  Thanks honey, I love you too!  But in truth, she is right.  I struggle with the  cardinal virtue of prudence or as St. Thomas Aquinas would say, “right reason in action.”  Apparently according to Aristotle, I am not alone.

As I was developing my thoughts on a blog surrounding the theme of “empathy” for our healing website, I thought about Aristotle’s words and men.  Studies show that women are typically more empathetic than men.  It has also been my experience that men, generally speaking, are miserable at offering empathy towards their spouses, children and fellow men.  As I write, I think of myself and other dads who say to their kids after a fall of sorts, “You’re okay” or “You’re a tough kid, you can handle it.”  Or when my wife starts to cry, I struggle knowing how to comfort her.  The old saying, “walk a mile in another person’s shoes” seems to not apply for some men.  Perhaps I am generalizing too much.  Perhaps it would be better for our purposes to say that wounded men are not good at walking a mile in another person’s shoes.

empathy cartoon
Let’s reflect on this point for a moment.  Yes, I believe a wounded person can sympathize with others who are wounded for sure, but empathy is another arena altogether.  I question how really capable wounded men are at offering such.   If empathy is about owning and understanding another’s feelings for oneself then can someone who is extremely wounded realize or take on the pain of another when they cannot even understand their own feelings?  I would argue, that yes, some can, but as Aristotle says, “this is not easy, and not everyone can do it.”

I am of the school of thought that an emotionally wounded man is a co-dependent man.  In other words, he needs to be continually affirmed and validated by others.  It is very hard for a co-dependent man to operate out of empathy for others when this is exactly what he is seeking for himself.  The old maxim “you cannot give what you do not have” comes to mind.  Can the trauma of a man’s past create a numbness to other’s painful moments and experiences?  I believe it can and most often does to a degree.   Our past is often projected into our future unless significant healing has been dispensed towards that past pain.  It is my experience with wounded men, that despite the level or degree of healing, their past pain will often filter the future processing of other’s feelings.  It will take tremendous self-control and self-discipline not to allow the future feelings of others to be tainted by our past painful experiences.  Yet, this is not always a bad thing, but in the typical situation, it does not always generate an empathetic ear.  Again, sympathy will greatly be enhanced if a man can connect with a similarly wounded person’s story,

Okay, so what does a man do who he is unable to offer empathy toward his spouse, his kids and others?  Well, the short answer is continue to seek healing.  Ask Christ to give you an empathetic heart and ear in your life’s encounters.  Come to a Samson Healing Retreat and practice being empathetic as this is often done at our healing retreats.  In short though, be patient with yourself.  babt empathyWe cannot be all things to all people, but we must strive to grow and give others what they need, especially when they are attempting to be vulnerable with us.  Pray for that person while you are listening and ask God to give you the right response, whether it be empathy, sympathy, or just a silent, but listening presence.

In Christ’s healing love,

Mark Houck