Empathy: a compassionate understanding or a respectful understanding, which also functions as a pressure release valve.
As empathic connection happens, pressure, stress, and pain release. We feel seen, and we realize we aren't alone. Feeling so alone in the pressure, the stress and the pain only intensifies it and can take one further down the (trauma) vortex. So when empathic connection and listening happen, that's what really makes the difference. In fact, Peter Levine, the Founder of Somatic Experience says, that "Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness."
In other words, the absence of empathy when needed most can be traumatic...
Connecting in empathy is also known as "holding space" and let’s be honest, if we were better at holding space and showing empathy for one another, our world would be a very different place. Showing empathy is a step toward connection, and it isn’t always easy for it requires willingness to do so, compassion and enough awareness of oneself to do so. It also requires becoming aware of what we might do that leads to disconnection instead of connection, all with our good intentions leading the way. Nonviolent communication teaches about the 4 D's of Disconnection:
1. Diagnosis (judgment, analysis, criticism, comparison)
2. Denial of Responsibility
4. “Deserve” oriented language
Take a moment to think about a challenging relationship you have and see if one of these 4 D's is the form of 'connection' you think you are giving? Or perhaps these are immediate responses that come up without even having a moment to think. Often we think we are connecting; we think we are empathic, yet certain strategies only lead to disconnection.
The idea of holding space requires a level of selflessness to do so. It's not sympathy "oh poor you," it's empathy, which is being able to step in the others' shoes for a moment and hold it, without needing to interject or do anything but be with the other. As Gabby Bernstein says in one of her card decks, “Compassion is my compass. I’m willing to hold space for the experience of others.” This is the essence of empathic connection and also what a representative does in a constellation, holding the role and expressing it, so a healing movement can come for the Issue Holder. It’s not unusual for the representative to gain insights of their own in the process, but this happens as a consequence. It isn’t the main goal or reason for participation. Someone with a lot of experience doing constellations, however, knows that they'll receive by giving and participating in a Circle, so it can also be a motivation to attend. Constellation Circles are Healing Circles. Representatives come in service to others and their participation and most importantly their presence makes healing movements possible. It is the power of presence that allows the Constellation to happen! As one person brings a question, others work in service and also receive. As we give, we also receive. This is the generosity of Life and the Knowing Field you could say. In order to better define and recognize the role of representatives, several months ago I started using the title “Space Holder” instead of representative. I feel it better describes the true role and responsibility of it because being a representative comes with responsibility, yes it does. Are you able to separate yourself and your own experience from the role you “represent” in a constellation? Are you aware when your own experience converges with the other? The role you represent may converge with your own story, which could make it difficult or nearly impossible to separate. The moment of insight that this is happening is a gift, for you, for the Issue Holder and for everyone in the Circle in fact. The moment of presence bonds the group. That moment can help remind you as well that you are there in service, not for yourself only or first. And that moment can remind you of the responsibility that goes with participating in a Circle.
Constellations is a practice in presence. It's an opportunity to connect in empathy and the experience of representing/holding space can be a teacher of how to do so, for when you represent/hold space and can be present, simple and precise with what you represent, this is a great gift- the great gift that makes healing in community possible.