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Empathy Animated (& the Trap of Silver Lining Zombies)

Bren√© Brown‘s insight on the difference between empathy and sympathy has been animated into an instructive, informative, funny and adorable short video.

In case you’re like me and would rather read the gist than watch a video, here’s an excerpt (though I do recommend the video highly!):

“Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with ‘at least.’ … Someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to silver line it. … One of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations is we try to make things better. If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I’d rather you say, ‘I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.’ Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better.”

As soon as I saw this a couple months ago, I knew I wanted to share it with you, but not what I wanted to say about it. The thought I keep coming back to is not about connecting with others through empathy rather than sympathy, but with myself.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been angry or sad about migraine and chronic daily headache and tried to make it better with “At least…” This wasn’t an exercise in counting my blessings, but in telling myself that what I feel doesn’t matter.

Silver lining my grief never made it go away, it just hid it for a while. Burying emotions doesn’t get rid of them permanently, it turns them into zombies that continually rise from the dead. Unlike zombies, for which there are surefire methods to eliminate, buried emotions return endlessly, becoming increasingly difficult to suppress.

Thanks to this animation, I now stop whenever a thought begins with “At least…” I then tell myself what I promised to say to others — “That’s awful, I’m so sorry.”

Guess what? It works.

Simply acknowledging that what I’ve been through is awful eases the pain more than I could have imagined. It serves me far better than silver lining the zombies ever did.

2 Responses to Empathy Animated (& the Trap of Silver Lining Zombies)

  1. Cynthia Silverstein says:

    Excellent, clever! This short animated voice over cartoon will guide me in the difficult situations of hearing about someone’s pain. The knee jerk reaction is to want to make it better by saying just the right thing. The right thing is being empathetic…. just acknowledging with sincerity.

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