Posted in My Unsettled Heart

Empathy the Hard Way

Sometimes when I look back at past experiences, namely my failed young marriage and the very damaging relationship that came directly on the heels of the marriage’s demise, I’m actually really, truly grateful for the character I’ve built as a result. While I don’t have nearly everything figured out in life at the moment, at age 23 when I got married, and nearly 24 when I was newly separated, I was a complete mess.

I was naive and idealistic, while anger and bitterness festered just underneath a cheerful surface. I didn’t know what I wanted out of my life in general and that led to some poor decisions. And if I were to meet that 23-year-old today, I’m positive that I would not naturally like her. I might pity her or have compassion for the struggles she is facing as a result of her undeveloped self-awareness and judgment.

But that’s really it, isn’t it? We may not always enjoy the memories of the people we once were; of the choices and stumbles we’ve made along the way, but those unlikable moments are what provide us the clarity to grow.

Because I don’t want to be held hostage in a loveless relationship filled with criticism and neglect, I choose to make more discriminating choices with regard to those with whom I spend my time and give my heart. This is a constant struggle, of course. The heart is not easily reasonable.

Because I have experienced the effect of a controlling partner’s actions and words on my spirit, I try to maintain honest communication and freedom in my relationships.

Because I’ve felt the tragic loss of a big, big love, I am more careful with others’ hearts.

Because I have been dependent, I know what it takes for me to feel strong and capable.

Because I have lost everything, I know I am stronger than I ever imagined.

Because I was afraid of being alone, I had to be brave to face life independently. That’s not entirely correct: I chose to be brave and face life independently.

Living through the challenging black holes of emotion allowed me to construct a character I never would have dared without facing those dark times. And more importantly, all of the crap created a deepened compassion for those around me. Everyone truly is fighting some sort of battle, and to them, it might mean everything is on the line including their identity and all that they know. That was certainly the case for me.

people can make some really big mistakes despite some really good intentions

It’s easy, I know, to judge someone else’s circumstances. My marriage failed within its first year – I was on the receiving end of many judgments and accusations. Marrying the wrong person once taught me that people can make some really big mistakes despite some really good intentions. And while not everyone may experience a starter marriage as a life lesson, I do know that everyone walks though pain and if it’s channeled just so, we can all understand one another better and with more compassion.

Through my most painful and embarrassing experiences, I’ve grown. And the empathy and compassion that I’ve developed have made me a better person. I respect who I am today. I trust myself to make better, more thoughtful decisions for myself because I am actually a person that I now kind of like. These days, I want to do better for myself because I know I deserve it… I’ve earned it. And I want to make better choices, to live with more bravery, because that empowers me and I know that it can inspire those around me to live more bravely too.


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