FA 042 Empathy

Feral  Attraction
Episode 042 - Empathy 10/26


  • I live with my husband and our boyfriend. Here’s how we make it work.

    • “The more people you add to your love life, the more drama and chaos. Three-way sex is awesome; three-way fighting is awful. There are a lot of moving parts in the polyamorous lifestyle. And sometimes that can feel overwhelming and unmanageable.”

    • “There is a lot of talk about jealousy. It’s regarded as an emotion for the weak and unenlightened… I must be seriously unenlightened then, because I am a jealous, territorial, alpha-kind of man.”

    • “Our relationship allows us a lot of room to explore with other people, both sexually and emotionally. We try to be honest with one another — and we try our best not to hurt one another. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we don’t.”

    • “I still get that kind of heart-pounding and burning sensation all over my body whenever I picture either of my men with someone else… Which is difficult, considering our lifestyle and the amount of times they are with other people.”

    • “When Alex and I first started dating Jon, I would storm out of the room, slamming the bedroom door, waiting for one of them to come out and ask me what was wrong. I think I’ve kicked Jon out of the house four times in two years and threatened to divorce Alex at least that many times, if not more.”

    • "I had to confront my feelings. I didn’t have to confront Alex or Jon, but myself. I had to spend time alone with my fears and insecurities. Because that is all jealousy is: fear. Of being abandoned. Of not being enough. Of being alone."

    • “The truth is, all the things we fear might happen. Alex might decide he loves his new friend more than me. Jon might decide to disappear to Mexico with his lover. These things could happen regardless of how jealous I feel today, tomorrow or next year. No matter how stable they seem”

    • Take home message: It’s okay to be flawed and polyamorous, so long as you are compassionate to each other and empathetic to each other’s needs

      • “At least Jon and Alex and I are honest with one another. I get to share my fears and my joys with them. I get to be there for them as they do the same. And I fall more in love with them as we do this.”


What is Empathy?

  • Definition

    • “The capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another's position.”

  • Empathy vs. sympathy

    • Empathy is focused on the other person

      • you are feeling their feelings

    • Sympathy is rooted in ego

      • your emotional response to theirs

  • Empathy vs. intellectual understanding

    • Trying to force someone to understand pain they’ve caused you tends to make them feel attacked, even if your intention is just to obtain their empathy

How to resolve conflicts empathetically

  • Use non-violent communication

  • Expressing hurt empathetically

    • Focus on your feelings now, not on what has happened in the past

      • Reliving past trauma with someone encourages disconnection and hurt feelings, not empathy

      • Try to keep any discussion of the past to 5 words or fewer

        • “When you didn’t come home that night”

        • “When you RPed without telling me”

        • “When you slept with my ex”

  • Listening empathetically

    • Be present with the other person

      • Let them speak without questioning, invalidating, or defending yourself

      • They aren’t angry at you, or upset at you; they are simply angry or upset, because a need of theirs isn’t being met

      • “Extend empathy to the person who is hurting, angry, or frightened by being fully present to what they are experiencing without offering any judgment, diagnosis, or advice.”

    • Repeat back key realizations, and ask for clarification if you don’t think you are quite understanding the other person’s needs and wants

    • Affirm that you are hearing them, and make them feel understood, like you truly care about what they are saying and feeling

    • Ask “is there more you’d like to say?”

    • Before telling them how you feel in response, ask “would you like to hear how what you said made me feel? Would you like information? Advice? What can I offer you that would help you feel better?”

    • Try to inspire reverse empathy, but only AFTER you have given the other person all the empathy they need, and they feel like you’ve heard them out

      • Don’t make excuses, but describe earnestly what needs you were acting on and how you arrived at the decisions you made

      • Be vulnerable and fully honest

        • Take ownership of any mistakes you might have made

  • Apologizing empathetically

    • Don’t worry about blame, fault, or punishment; keep the conversation about your and the other person’s unmet needs, and how you can better meet those needs in the future

      • “You need to feel safe and like you can trust me in our relationship, and when I failed to tell you about going out to dinner with my ex, I didn’t do a good job of meeting that need. I am so sorry you felt pain as a result of my actions. In the future, I’ll make sure that I am more transparent with you.”

      • When you and your mate have a good understanding of each other’s unmet needs, you may feel sadness or frustration at having not done well by each other, but feelings of shame, guilt, anger, and depression should be minimal

        • If you are still having these feelings, it’s likely that too much emphasis was put on blame and who was “wrong” in the situation, or that there are still needs that have yet to be uncovered and addressed

        • Don’t worry about “should have” or how terrible you are; focus on changing the present for a better future

          • Self-forgiveness and self-compassion is very different from rationalization or denial of responsibility for your past actions

Levels of Empathy

  • Too much empathy (hyperempathy)

    • Can be overwhelming and cause you to stop focusing on your needs and only focus on the needs of others

    • Can elevate levels of stress to unhealthy, unsustainable levels

    • Can allow you to forgive behaviors that violate your integrity, like abusiveness or cheating/lying/stealing

    • If you are unable to ‘recharge’, might force you to be less empathetic overall as you are so overburdened you wall yourself off

    • Possible Solutions:

      • Emotional Boundaries

        • Take time for yourself where you can separate from the world, whether it’s reading, running, taking a bath. Find something and make it your own

      • Don’t rehash negative events repeatedly, even if venting

        • Focus more on positive situations in your daily life

      • Mindfulness

  • Too little empathy

    • Can drive a wedge between yourself and others and can reduce the longevity, satisfaction, and quality of relationships

    • Can be a source of egocentrism.

    • Can come from a lack of practice or the presence of a mental condition (i.e. alexithymia)

    • Solutions:

      • Focus on empathy and make a conscious effort to allow yourself to think “what might the other person be feeling”. It might seem textbook, but that’s perfectly fine

      • Speak with your partner and advise them of your condition (if applicable). In some cases your partner (and therapy) can help teach you methods in which you can learn to grasp the idea of empathy and how to practice it in a more reflexive, natural way

      • Empathy might seem unnatural or uncomfortable, but work past that and try to be there for your partner

      • Focus on what you know: if you know you have issues with emotions, focus on the practical side of things. You can empathize with problems without strictly focusing on the emotional aspect


  • First off, I'd like to thank you for being a huge resource for me as I finally have indulged something I knew about myself (7 plus years ago)... It has helped me better understand my sexuality and feelings. And have better sex with my partners. As little as a month ago I finally came to terms with the self loathing I was experiencing for feeling the way I do about men. Your podcasts have enabled me to find the words to communicate to a long term partner, as well as, communicate my needs to newer ones. In the last month I've been able to have a stronger relationship with my primary partner, work out my kink, engage sexually with a couple from my past all well becoming more in touch with my sona. On top of that I've developed a rather large crush on someone that was integral to my personal acceptance. I feel like I am literally on fire. And it feels fucking great. So thank you for that. The realization of self loathing really hit home for me when the Pulse massacre happened. I couldn't go on hating myself and not understanding things about myself because that self hatred leads to horrible things personally, as well as, externally... My question is, am I moving to fast? I somewhat feel like I'm making up for some lost time considering that came to terms with all this within the last month (even if I have been seeing men on and off for a couple years). I haven't yet felt overwhelmed at all though. How much is too much to take on, and should I be leary about all this because my friend has been describing it as my gay teens?

    • Received via email (name withheld)


  • Next week’s topic: Motivation vs Discipline

Metriko Oni

Metriko Oni is a former government environmental disaster mitigations expert with a focus on outreach, education, and policy writing. He now works with computers. He has been active in the fandom since 2013 and has been an advocate for transparent lines of communication. His interests include philosophy, media, futurism, and speculative fiction.