Sharing Empathy, Silence, and Presence.
Have you ever wondered how someone is changed by a presence of another person? How the simple act of being “here” or physically present with someone helps them to feel better?
When something bad happens, I mean really bad, it is easy to wonder what to say. Should you tell them funny stories and make them laugh? Should you recite poems to comfort them? Read them a day’s account from Chicken Soup for the Soul? What do people need when going through a rough time?
They need you to be HERE.
If silence were a person, She would be an oddity. One day she would be dressed in rags, and the other all dolled-up in fancy evening-wear. One can hardly recognize her as her persona changes with each person she visits. She can move unnoticed through a crowd, but her company changes everyone around her. She can make arguments last forever. She can bring peace during rough times. Or, she can be awkward and out-of-place. No one seems to know what to do with her.
Silence has a best friend. His name would be Presence. He likes to accompany Silence. Most of the time they get along very nicely. When they are having the best of times, they bring a special togetherness that provides healing to a wounded soul. Pain is relieved in a way that baffles all science; medications cannot begin to touch the healing powers of Presence and Silence.
The Power of Presence
Have you ever noticed that when a child is hurt they come running to their mother? And what does the mother do? She gives her love, a hug, perhaps a band-aid on the sore knee. But hugs do not remove pain. Band-aids help to control the bleeding and prevent dirt from getting into the scraped knee, but they too cannot eliminate pain.
A fascinating study was done by a Dr. Goldstein to examine how the presence of a loved one changed a person’s response to pain. It was titled “The role of touch in regulating inter-partner physiological coupling during empathy for pain.” Twenty-two couples were measured for the heart rate and respirations (how fast they breathed) during painful and non-painful situations. Additionally, during the study, at times the couples were allowed to hold hands and other times they were not.
The results were not surprising. They merely proved the theory that each time the couple were allowed to hold hands during the painful times, the pain diminished.
The Power of Empathy
The University of Colorado Boulder explained Dr. Goldstein’s theory of pain relief by stating “possibly by affecting an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with pain perception, empathy, and heart and respiratory function.” Which is to say…the front part of the brain, which interprets pain, also receives signals about empathy. In turn, it helps to control how fast you breathe and how fast your heart beats. It can speed it up or slow it down.
The empathetic response (i.e., the show of love by holding hands) was what provided pain relief. The closer the couples were to each other physically, mirrored the rate of pain relief that was experienced. If they were side by side the relief was minor, but if they touched that was when the highest amount of pain relief was experienced. Additionally, the couples naturally began to breathe harmoniously together, and their heart rates mirrored each other. This effect is known as ‘coupling.’
Bréne Brown summed it up this way
Empathy doesn’t require that we have the exact same experiences as the person sharing their story with us…Empathy is connecting with the emotion that someone is experiencing, not the event or the circumstance.
The Power of Sharing
A burden shared is a burden halved. T.A. Webb
The next time you see someone who is struggling, going through sorrow, or simply having a bad day. Be there for them. Mirror their response. If they are quiet, then be quiet. If they want to talk, then let them talk.
Of course, if the situation and the friendship allow, crack that joke and laugh together. Share verses one or two verses of comforting Scripture. Pray with them and for them. Offer to help in the situation – pick up groceries, take them a meal, or even get them some flowers. Be the friend that they need you to be. But most of all, just be there physically and emotionally for them.
They need your presence more than they need things.
Read Also – Intimate Cord of Love. Learn What will keep your marriage together in the storms of life? What will bind you and your spouse together?
“A Lover’s Touch Eases Pain as Heartbeats, Breathing Sync.” Genders 1998-2013, 20 July 2017, www.colorado.edu/today/2017/06/21/lovers-touch-eases-pain-heartbeats-breathing-sync.
Goldstein, P, et al. “The Role of Touch in Regulating Inter-Partner Physiological Coupling during Empathy for Pain.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 June 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28607375.