What Empathy Is Not

When a person is telling us of a struggle they are having, there are many ways we can respond.  There is a specific type of response described in Nonviolent Communication, called the empathic guess, or empathic inquiry, or sometimes just referred to as empathy.  There are many other ways of responding.  We are not saying that any response is good or bad in itself.  We just want to clarify at this point what empathy is not.

Non-Empathic Responses 

  1. Judging:   criticizing the person or their point of view.
    1. I can’t believe you…
    2. You’re so…
  2. Consoling: 
    1. Oh you poor thing…
  3. Interpreting: telling the person what their motives are
    1. I think you’re doing this because
  4. Spiritual Bypass: 
    1. If you trust in God/Universe/Higher Power it’ll work out. 
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Three Choices for Connection

  1. Self Empathy

Think of a time when things didn’t go as well as you would like.

  • What happened? 
  • How did you feel?
  • What needs of yours were unfulfilled?
  1. Empathy Guesses for Another

What were you telling yourself about this person?

  • What could the person feel?
  • What could the person be needing?
  1. Honest Self Expression

If you weren’t being careful, what would you say to this person? Translate:

  • Observation
  • Feeling
  • Need
  • Request

For more articles like this, go to the www.authenticcommunicationgroup.comRead more

Mirror Activity


  1. Talk about the value of self empathy.
  2. Look in the mirror for 2 minutes. 
  3. Write down your thoughts on sticky notes and place them on the mirror – 3 minutes.
  4. As you take each sticky note off the mirror, unpack each thought using OFN – 5 minutes.
  5. You can see yourself again! 
  6. Share your experience with a partner and get empathy. 10 minutes each way.
  7. Debrief the learning.
  8. Put the group seated close together as witnesses. Each person sits in front of the group 
  9. one at a time and looks in the mirror, says I love you to self, and then looks at each person in the group. 
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Rescuing Disowned Parts and Time Travel

This process is developed by Sarah Peyton and Susan Skye, both CNVC-trainers, and adapted by Pernille Plantener.

Make sure to practice the process several times with a peer both ways before offering it to clients. Respect hesitation and reluctance as an expression of protectors stepping in. Remember: Protectors are there for a reason and respecting them is respecting the client and the whole system.

This outline does NOT equip you to work with clients who experience severe childhood trauma. We encourage you to check your gut feeling as you engage in this process. Both coach and client can step out at any moment.… Read more

Inner Critic Types

By Jay Earley, PhD
with NVC empathic responses by Pernille Plantener.

The empathy guesses in Italics are suggestions for how to empathize with the critic itself, the exile it is protecting, and the opposite of the critic, which often enters the scene in defense when the critic is harsh.

In our study of the Inner Critic, we have identified the following seven types of Inner Critics that people are troubled by:

This critic tries to get you to do things perfectly.
It sets high standards for the things you produce and has difficulty saying something is complete and letting it go out to represent you.… Read more

Detecting New Parts

Originally published in  Coaching for Transformation

Listening to parts is usually very simple as long as we hold respect. Perhaps the trickiest part of the process is noticing when a new part comes into the system. But how do we know if it’s the same part or a different part? The telltale sign is a shift in emotion or energy. The body or the voice might shift too. When a part expresses a radical change in its belief or shifts to holding a new set of values, that’s usually a sign that another part has decided to speak.

If the Strict Parent part suddenly says, “Well maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to give the children more freedom to make their own choices and mistakes,” that’s not the Strict Parent part having an epiphany, it’s the Lenient Parent wanting to be heard.… Read more

Active Imagination

Originally published in  Coaching for Transformation

One of the ways clients can continue to work with parts is to ask them to practice Active Imagination as homework. Active Imagination is a Jungian technique developed to help people interpret their dreams. Like writing a play, we write a script, speaking with a part that appeared in our dream or in our psyche. In writing, we ask the part why it has appeared now. Then, imagining we are the part, we include the part’s response in the script, and continue the dialog by asking curious questions such as: What is your role? What do you do?… Read more

Transformation of Parts

Originally published in  Coaching for Transformation

Most parts do not want or need to be transformed. They just need to be heard. Once clients integrate the information from multiple parts, they can make informed decisions about what changes they wish to make.

Above all else, parts need to be loved exactly as they are. If they get a hint that we are trying to change them, they interpret that as judgment, and rightly so. Coaches can get into trouble if we imply there is anything wrong with the part. One whiff of that and the part feels misunderstood and loses trust.… Read more

Working with an Internal Oppressor

Originally published in Coaching for Transformation

Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” The same is true about accepting parts. Instead of admonishing or fighting against an internal oppressor, if we simply witness and accept the oppressors’ beliefs and emotions, we move closer to a mindful state that helps parts relax.

If we’re part of a marginalized group and we experience prejudice, we often internalize oppression over time. Consciously or unconsciously, a part of us believes in the stereotypes and holds an oppressive view toward our identity group, whether we’re a person of color, a woman, LGBTQQ, working class or survivors of other social constructs.… Read more