The following article was submitted by a client as she took time to reflect on these questions.
Growth and Learning in Empathy Circles
By Ruth Crea
As I reflect on my experiences being in Gloria's classes and receiving empathy, many things come up for me. When I first joined her tele-calls three years ago, speaking up or even answering a question triggered my body and mind into complete overwhelm. Many times I would be curled up on the floor under a blanket praying that I would not be called on, not even having the resources to request that I just listen in. (I didn't even know that just listening in was even an option.)
I joined the class because it was recommended by my coach. She felt that it would be a safe place for me to receive support in community with others. Well, that was most definitely not my perception. I did not trust any of the participants to hold me with care or to even slightly understand me. At first, I was not able to take in any information that was being shared. When I was asked to make a feelings or needs guess, I would frantically search through the list of feelings and needs and just pick one that might fit.
I definitely had trust issues, but I did trust my coach that this class would somehow benefit me and help me on my healing journey. Over time, my anxiety about showing up on the call began to diminish, and I would open up and share what was true for me. However, there would still be times when I would go into overwhelm and check out again. Eventually, I understood that even though I signed up for the class, I did not have to call in, and if I did call in, I could request that I just listen in. I also could hang up if I chose to do so. Or if at any time during the call I began to feel uncomfortable, I could message Gloria and request that she not call on me. It took me quite a while, but I finally learned that I had choice.
Another thing that I noticed was that others on the call would show up with all kinds of emotions and experiences. Sometimes they would even cry. I couldn't even imagine letting anyone hear me cry. And there were times when I would go into overwhelm on the call and tears would come, but I would not let anyone hear me cry, and sometimes if my emotions became too intense, I would just hang up.
I wondered how everyone on the call seemed to share so easily while I struggled to share anything. I was pretty sure that everyone on the call would think I was just insanely crazy and wish that I would remain silent so they would not have to hear me. And I feared that if anyone found out who I really was, they would just annihilate me. So I was very selective on what I shared and how much I shared.
One call will forever be remembered as it was during this one call when I began to feel my body again. During this call I was curled up on the floor in a back hallway. And I am not sure what I decided to share or even how I brought up the courage to share, but I did. What I shared needed to be seen and heard and held with the utmost care because that part felt completely vulnerable. I remember how my body responded when I started to feel again. The past trauma I'd experienced had cut off all sensations so I didn't even know that I couldn't feel. As I was sharing, my body began awakening and every part of my body ached, even my toes. I remember crying and being heard, finally able to express the emotions that I was feeling, and every inch of my body ached.
What I now understand, is that during this call I began feeling safe in a radically different way. When I began to share and be completely authentic, the parts that had shut down finally felt safe to come out of hiding. And the pain that I felt was my body's way of releasing all of the stories and emotions that had been locked up and held deep within. This was the start of an emotional pendulum that guided me in knowing when it was safe to share. The significance of this call is that I believe it marks the first time I was able to feel safe enough to trust the community of participants on the call.
I imagine that my experience was very similar to an antelope who gets caught by a lion and knows that death is imminent, until the lion stepped away for whatever reason, and the antelope realizes that his life is not over and he can get up and run away. And after he has run a safe distance away from the lion, his body begins to shake and release all of the emotions that he experienced during the attack. And then, after the energy has been released, the antelope can go back to grazing with its herd.
Recently, I have had some new shifts. Last week I was finally able to share and to listen and be present for others in this community. I could hear their stories and really hear what they were experiencing and feel what they were needing in the moment. It was a deeper sense of understanding that I had ever experienced before. I could actually name needs met for me and really mean it instead of just guessing.
Another concept that has been quite foreign to me is something called resonant healing. I had heard others in the class mention it as one of their needs met, but I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn't even understand how anyone could experience healing while listening to someone else as they were getting empathy. I thought that they were just making it up to so that they could sound amazingly connected to some higher source that allowed such healing. And so, the other day, as I was really listening to others getting empathy for what they were experiencing, I noticed that the anxiety and tension that I was holding in my body slowly dissipated and a sensation of openness and calm overcame my entire being. I described this to Gloria, and she explained that what I experienced was resonant healing. I was able to find relief through listening to others being held. Is that amazing or what?
The tele-calls and empathy circles that Gloria leads has allowed me to learn that I can have choice - and not just in her classes - but also in my life. Her classes have given me a safe place to experience being heard or to not being heard, to show up or to not show up, or to show up and then hang up. The thing that most stands out is that even though I am just now really feeling safe, there has never been any pressure to do anything.
I am realizing that it makes sense why my body and mind shut down when they did, and I needed a lot of choice and to take just as much time as I needed to come back to wholeness.
That is what these calls have allowed me to do in community.