“Empathy is commonly viewed as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagining how you would feel. That could be seen as a start but that is little more than role playing and it is not enough…Radical empathy, on the other hand, means putting in the work to educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another’s experience from their perspective, not as we imagine we would feel.”
Empathy in a New Light
I was struck by this quote because the idea of listening to another with a humble heart to genuinely understand their experience is so relevant for ADHD-impacted relationships. You and your partner are exceptionally different. Not just because of the ‘typical’ factors, such as upbringing, gender, or education level, but because your brains function differently. You experience the same events through completely different lenses.
In my seminar I urge partners to believe their partner’s explanations of what they are experiencing. To resist discounting experiences that just don’t feel ‘rational’ or ‘real’ because they are so different from their own. If, for example, a non-ADHD partner says “I feel invisible…” don’t tell the person they aren’t. Rather, ask yourself ‘what would that feel like?’ If an ADHD partner says ‘I don’t know why I don’t get the bills paid on time’ don’t judge that statement but, again, ask ‘what would that feel like?’
As you go through this opening up to your partner’s experience remember that this may not be easy. It doesn’t feel comfortable to understand an experience that may be so foreign to you. Yet…well worth it. The empathy you develop for that experience can help you both feel better heard and lessen friction between you.
Could you do a better job of listening with a humble heart to understand another’s experience from their perspective, not as we imagine we would feel?
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