Visualize the Child to Rebuild Your Empathy


Visualize the Child to Build Your Empathy

“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.”  — John Green

If you don’t have empathy for yourself, chances are you don’t have empathy for others.

If you constantly beat yourself up, in the name of holding yourself to a higher bar, you might be doing more harm than help.

This is especially true if you lead teams or set the tone for others.  Brains work better when they are relaxed and ready.

To Build Compassion, Start with Yourself

To show empathy for others, you need to first show empathy for yourself.

One of the jokes we say at work is “beatings will continue until morale improves.”

The point is to highlight that people respond better to encouragement, acknowledgment, and praise, not put downs, belittlement, and threats.  To say it in a *sticky* way, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

It takes empathy to really know just the right things to say, to make somebody’ day, or to lift them when they need it most.  This goes for you too.  It’s all too easy to get so focused on output or focused on outcomes, that you lose yourself along the way.  If you have a high-personal bar, it’s easy when you miss it, to beat yourself down, when you really need to lift yourself up.

Rebuild Your Empathy, Even If You’re Numb

While it’s true that we’’ll do more to move away from pain than we’ll do to move towards pleasure, pain and threats are not a sustainable strategy.  Intensity does not automatically mean inspiration.  On the other hand, inspiration often brings a healthy sense of urgency.  And when you’re relaxed and ready, you are often more resourceful.

But how do you build or rebuild empathy for yourself or others, if you are numb inside, or shut down?   Enter Visualize the Child.  It’s an exercise  that Shirzad Chamine introduces in his book, Positive Intelligence.  Visualize the Child is a way to rebuild empathy with yourself so that you can build your empathy for others.

Instant Empathy

You have instant empathy if you know  where to look.

Via Positive Intelligence:

“If you go to the playground and watch five-year olds play, you will probably feel instant empathy and caring for these total strangers.  This is in part due to the fact that at that age a child still mainly radiates with his or her Sage essence energy.  The off-putting Saboteurs that make us less likeable as adults are not as visible at this age.”

Visualize Yourself as a Child

imageYou can instantly find your empathy again.  The trick is to remember the feeling.   One way is to visualize a scene in your mind of you as a child.

Via Positive Intelligence.

“You can use this fact to shift your brain to feel empathy and caring for yourself or others.  Visualize yourself as a child in s setting where your essence is shining through. 

Perhaps you are holding a puppy, building a sand-castle, chasing a bunny, or snuggling with a loved one. 

Pick a vivid and detailed image that instantly triggers feelings of caring and empathy. 

You might even want to find an actual photograph of yourself as a child in which your original personality is shining through   

Put that picture on your desk or on your phone or computer so that you see it frequently.  This image will be a reminder that your true essence is worthy of unconditional caring and empathy when you are feeling beaten down by your own Judge, or other’s, or troubles of life.”

Generating Empathy for Others

imageYou can visualize others as a child as well to build empathy.  This will remind you of the hopes, the dreams, the aspiration, the fears, and the child-like wonder that they started out with.  It’s still there.

Via Positive Intelligence:

“The same holds true for generating empathy for others.  If you are feeling upset at someone due to their Saboteurs, you have been hijacked by your own. 

To recover back to your sage, you could activate any of your five Sage powers. 

If you choose to activate the Sage’s power to Empathize, visualize the other person as a child in her true essence before she started getting weighted down by Saboteurs. 

Visualize  her eyes and facial expression, her manner of carrying herself, what used to light her up as a child.  Visualize her hold her puppy, snuggle with  her mom, or chase a butterfly.  Trust that essence is still inside her, underneath her Saboteurs. 

You can do this in the back of your mind even while you are interacting with her in a meeting.  It will instantly impact how much empathy you feel.”

Use an Actual Photograph

Using an actual photograph might be your best way to make it real and to remind yourself to actually do it.

Via Positive Intelligence:

“To access empathy for himself, I asked Frank to play Visualize the Child.  His judge was so persistent that he couldn’t access any empathy for himself by just visualizing it.   So I suggested using an actual photograph. 

He found a picture of himself under a Christmas tree.  He was lit up with joy, kindness, wonder, and curiosity.  The picture conveyed Frank’s true essence, which was hiding beneath his tough corporate demeanor. 

I asked him to put a copy of that picture on his smart phone and look at it every day.  Frank reported that looking at the pictures made it easier for him to feel empathy and appreciation for himself during these tough times.”

You can really make this a fun exercise.  Find your favorite picture that reminds you of who you really are and who you want to be.

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  1. JD,
    This is awesome advice!
    Simple mental image to carry forward, actionable, and very timely for me.
    Thank you

  2. @ Alik — It’s really turning out to be a fantastic book, full of great tips and tricks for making it real.

    There’s a lot of power when it comes to driving positive intelligence.

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