Empathy: Empathy is a quality that gives us insight into another person’s nature-of-being. Each of us is unique: we dynamically shape our world and are reflected by it in a way that is like no other. Empathy allows us to have an emotional resonance with someone else—to connect—even if our lives and circumstances are different.
We employ this quality when we are engaged in watching a movie or reading a book. The actress Meryl Streep has said, “The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy,” and her career is marked by an ability to virtually inhabit the soul of her characters.
Therapy should not be one-size-fits-all, and the solutions for each individual should emerge from their singularity. For one person, a change of residence or job might be appropriate; for another, such a move might be a tremendous upheaval creating even more stress; and for yet another, uprooting is their usual way of not really facing their problems.
The process of psychotherapy is about building a relationship, which requires openness, respect, and attention on the part of both therapist and client. In the safe space of mutual regard, a client develops or heightens their own empathic intelligence. This becomes a powerful tool in forming associations and in tapping into one’s personal wellspring.
Self-Esteem: Perhaps there is no more frequently occuring and misunderstood theme in psychotherapy than self-esteem. Self-esteem is not handing all the first-graders awards and prizes for being the best in something, because self-esteem is more about the journey than already being there.
Healthy people will see themselves as possessing a mix of qualities but recognize that they are the authors of their own actions. Self-esteem resides in taking responsibility for our own lives, which may involve reflection and self-criticism. While self-esteem isn’t about feeling good all the time, it is about feeling that we are worthy of happiness. In the words of Nathaniel Branden, “Positive self-esteem is the immune system of the spirit.”
Therapy can nurture a person’s sense of competence in moving through life. Crisis can make us feel that things are spinning out of control, but even those life transitions we welcome can tax our coping skills. Rather than merely react to whatever comes our way, we can learn to respond in ways that help us grow. Stepping outside situations and persons, psychotherapy can help us make good choices and seek fulfilling experiences.
Empathy and self-esteem go in hand in hand. Empathy is about connectedness and building relationships. Self-esteem is about independence and feeling comfortable in your own skin. The process of psychotherapy should work towards achieving a balance.