Empathy ≠ Compassion

Glasses are from ItsZen30.com

I’m a big fan of coaches. Life coaches, health coaches, career coaches, yoga coaches, etc. After almost two-and-a-half years of therapy, I was tired of examining the past and at the right time, two fantastic coaches entered my life. My career coach explained to me the difference between therapy and coaching was exactly that. Therapy focuses on your past and coaching focuses on your present to future.

I’m proud to say I reached all three goals my career coach helped me set for this year! She went off to have her third baby, so we’ve paused our work together, but when she returns I’ll be excited to see where else we can travel together.

And my wellness coach who recently dubbed herself a women’s self-care coach has been an angel in my life. Education on essential oils, yoga training, massages, and guided meditations are all a part of her package. Currently, she has me working on forgiveness.

And it sucks.

I thought I’d forgiven the two people in my life who I hold the deepest grudges for by letting them go. I’d decided to walk away from them when the relationships became so toxic it felt impossible to forgive them. In doing so, I’d been able to breathe one giant sigh of relief and assumed it was done.

I was wrong.

In doing the work, of this online forgiveness course, I pulled compassion as the principle I need to work on.

Compassion? I’m a full-fledged empath? I literally feel what others are feeling. How can I need to work on my compassion?


Every personality test I take lands me on the heart-centered spectrum. One test I ran with my career coach had me as compassionate, though it did specify that I tend to be more so with the underdog and not necessarily towards those I believe can help themselves.

Then, the other day after a fight with my husband, something clicked. He lost his temper with Little over something minor – my husband wanted to put a cup in the cupholder of Little’s seat in the mini-van and Little argued with him over where to put it. My husband rarely loses his temper. But on this night I watched this grown man who is at most times unshakeable go from calm to crushing the styrofoam cup into the cupholder in the blink of an eye. He was behaving much in the same manner as… well… the Little one when he’s not getting his way.

So what do I do? Lose my sh*t when we get home. Why? Because when I asked him about it he says to me, “It wasn’t about the cup, it’s about the way he talked to me. Who’re the parents here?”

giphy (1)

Well… just earlier that day, Little brought me a pocket knife he found in the backseat of the van and asked me what it is. What it was was a knife Middle left lying around. A knife he isn’t supposed to have after Oldest was expelled from school for carrying his knife on him to campus. After that, the rule became no knives in the house. Period. Because if they can’t be responsible for them, then they can’t have them. Logical, right?

Well… Middle keeps bringing new ones with him he gets from his friends where he lives with his mom. And Litte keeps finding them. And I keep hiding them. I haven’t bothered to tell Dad because Dad isn’t good at enforcing rules. I’m tired of getting mad when I feel like it falls on deaf ears. It’s kind of a BIG argument between us I’m over it. So I’ve resigned myself to taking them away and hoping eventually he’ll lose enough of them he’ll either stop bringing them or he’ll be better about not leaving them lying around.

But, when Dad lost his temper over Little’s attitude I lost my sh*t over why he was mad.

“Who’re the parents?” I screamed at him. “I ask myself that all the time. You let your kids walk all over you. You don’t make them follow any rules. Your kids are the ones teaching my kid this attitude.”

And on and on the blame shaming went. One little moment of weakness from my husband and I used it as an excuse to dump all over him my frustrations about our situation. Sure, he has a role to play, but I hate when he insinuates I’m to blame for misbehaviors, so why would I do the same to him?

And that’s what struck the epiphany. I’m an empath, so I feel what others feel, but the truth is I lack compassion.

The two are not synonymous. I looked it up.

Empathy – noun – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Compassion – noun – sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

And that’s the thing with epiphanies, it opens your eyes to a whole new way of seeing.

Is this why I have such a difficult time with forgiveness? Because I’m struggling with being sympathetic towards the people I need to forgive? Am I being unsympathetic to myself for being upset in the first place? After all, I’m doing all these things to be more Zen – yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, chromatherapy, journaling, self-care coaching, the list goes on – and I’m an empath, so shouldn’t I be the most forgiving?

Thinking it over, I suspect my lack of sympathy stems from feeling If I can do it, you should be able to too. For example, the incident with my husband and Little, my attitude was if I can work on holding my temper when our kids have an attitude, you should be able to too. And also, you don’t have the right to get mad about Little’s attitude when you do nothing about the way your kids talk to you.

And then I hate myself for being so unsympathetic. And on and on the cycle goes.

giphy (2)

But that’s the great thing about epiphanies too. Once you have them and you’re seeing the world differently, you can move forward a little more enlightened.

I have no idea how to be more compassionate. No freaking clue. Especially since I’m just realizing I’m not. I think it’s been my defense mechanism my entire life so far, being unforgiving as a way of protecting myself against people being able to hurt me. I think it’s a symptom of the perfectionism. I’m unforgiving to myself whenever I make mistakes and therefore, I hold the people I care about to those same high standards.

I’ll figure out a way to work on it, though. After all, I am doing all these things to be more Zen. Most likely I’ll develop some sort of 21-day challenge involving a beaded bracelet…

Do you have a mantra helping you be a zen mama? Or a lesson you’ve learned along the way you want to share with other mamas to help them be more zen? Contact me if you’re interested in posting it here on Zen Mama Mantras.

Leave a Reply