I am frequently asked these questions: “How do I get my spouse to open up and talk to me?” How do I get my kid to open up?” Psychologist Ken Moses (PhD) developed an acronym to help us remember an important way of being with people that promotes healing and growth. He calls it ENUF and indeed it enough to promote communication, healing and connection in marriage, parenting and all relationships. It is important here to clarify that this is not a communication model or a “how-to” but rather it is a way of BEing with others.
Stay Focused on the Feeling
Let’s take a look at each one of these:
Often when I ask for a definition of empathy I hear comments such as “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” or “understanding exactly what someone else is experiencing”. While these responses come close, there is much more to empathy. Consider for a moment that if I have raised a child with a disability and you have not, there is no way possible that I will know exactly what I am feeling or experiencing. Does this mean then that I could not be empathic with you? Of course not. Neuroscientists have identified “mirror neurons” in the brain- nerve cells that allow us to see emotion expressed in someone else and actually feel it ourselves. It is a powerful capability to aid us in our ability to connect with others. Expressing ourselves empathically in these promotes comfort, support, connection and growth. A definition then of empathy might be to bring all of what we are feeling, seeing and experiencing into the moment and making an effort to reflect back what we see. We will not get it exactly. We may not express it quite right. But it is in the EFFORT of expressing empathy that connection and healing happens. It is the effort that brings us closer together.
When we are talking about hard things, we all want to feel that one’s perception of us will not change. When we get the message that we should not feel the way we do, we feel shamed or judged. Responding non-judgmentally frees us up to look more deeply at what we are experiencing and to feel safe emotionally in the sharing of it. It is foundational to a relationship. Non-judgment says, “I will not put judgment on what you are feeling.”
The message of unconditionality is this: “No matter what you say or do, it will not change the way I see you or feel about you.” In this place of not changing how we see someone or feel about someone we stay emotionally present and connected. We don’t withdraw, retreat or lash out. Being unconditional in our regard for another does not imply that we are necessarily agreeing with or accepting of their choices or behavior but rather that we are accepting of them as a person.
Focus on the Feeling
It is easy to get caught up in the details of a story as one relates it to us. While the content is important, for connection we must stay focused on the feeling. The next part of this is to “convince” the other that the feeling has been heard. Comments like “you don’t really feel that way” or “look on the bright side” are not empathic or caring responses. To respond instead in acknowledgment of one’s pain provides support and comfort. Statements such as “I can see why you would feel so anxious” and “it’s hard to feel so sad” give the important message of “I am here.”, “You matter to me.”, “How you feel is important to me.”
Developing our innate, empathic nature with ENUF may feel a bit awkward at first, it may feel unnatural for you. This is a process, not an event. Keep at it and in time it can become an essential attribute that allows you to reach out and connect with others during times of pain.
Responding in ENUF brings healing to marriage and promotes positive parenting skills.