Empathy, not for Sissies

I usually think of myself as a pretty empathetic person. I’ve worked as a nurse for years in geriatrics. I always felt it was a passion of mine. Helping those who couldn’t help themselves or many times even speak up for themselves due to an illness is why I love geriatrics. Many times when I come home from work, though as they say in Oklahoma, “my give a damn’s busted”. I just want to crawl into a couch or a bed anywhere that I am not taking care of someone or something. It’s not very fair to my family though. Whatever title I give it,tired, cranky, burnout, or needing alone time, it still doesn’t help the connection that is most important to me and that is my family’s.

Reading Brene Brown‘s book Dare to Lead has been eye opening not just for at work, but for my family life too. On pages 139 and 140 of Dare to Lead, Brene talks about the real definition of empathy.

“So often, when someone is in pain, we’re afraid to say, ‘Yes this hurts. Yes this is a big deal. Yes, this sucks.’ We think our job is to make things better, so we minimize the pain…   In those bad moments, it’s not our job to make things better. It’s just not. Our job is to connect. It’s to take the perspective of someone else. Empathy is not connecting to an experience, it’s connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience.”


Wait, not our job to make things better? That’s what you do when you love someone right? You find the problem and then solve it. At least that’s what years of nursing has taught me ~ Never chart a problem without discussing what you are doing to address it, solve it, and wrap it up in “all better”. Okay, so maybe I have found one of my blindspots.

Maybe there are times when the problem (as we problem solvers are quick to identify) is not really the problem at all. Maybe the problem is in the lack of connection, to let people know they are heard and that in that very moment you connect with the emotion they are experiencing. Maybe if we did that with family members we would feel more connected. Maybe I’m speaking about myself, but I find it easier to use us, we, and they’s to talk about this vulnerable subject for me.

I think it’s because empathy is being vulnerable. Empathy is being reminded of our own hurts and it is hard to be in that space with someone else especially someone we love. Getting in the dirt doesn’t always mean we take a shovel with us. Getting in the dirt sometimes, just means sharing a space with someone who needs you in that space at that exact time. It might be a little dirty, and you might have to brush your OCD aside for a bit. However, the trust gained in those moments or betrayal felt for not being met there could last a life time.

Sarah Jackson

Vigilant Poster Girl

Read along with us Dare to Lead 


  1. Pingback: Brene Brown’s 5 Empathy Skills – Vigilant Poster Girl

  2. Pingback: Dare to Lead by Brene Brown – Wednesday’s Book of the Week – Vigilant Poster Girl

  3. Pingback: Together, We are the People – Vigilant Poster Girl

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow by Email
%d bloggers like this: