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Being An Empathetic Witness


Empathy requires understanding.  Understanding requires listening. Listening requires TIME, patience, and our presence.


We have all, likely, at some point read or heard the brilliant saying that "Trauma is not what happen's to you, but what happens INSIDE of you", by Dr. Gabor Mate, and other brilliant trauma aware advocates and researchers.

But what I love most about Dr. Peter Levine's version, is the addition of "in the absence of an empathetic witness", because it reminds us that WE, the witness to a person's challenges, have an active role in how an individual will experience their world, something that I feel is often forgotten still today.

So what's empathy actually got to do with it?

We know trauma is not the event or the experience itself, because we know that 2 people can have the EXACT same experience and cope very differently. Why? Because of the presence or absence of protective factors, and WE can be the protective factor.


Trauma= stress response

Empathy= puts the BREAKS on an individual's stress response= protective factor


GENUINE EMPATHY-in our actions, in our tone of voice, in our curiously to understand, in our silence when listening, in our shoulders and our gaze when leaning in with concern-can put the breaks on a persons stress response.

Empathy in the way that we LEAN IN to the individual in our attempt to understand THEIR feelings and experiences from THEIR perspective, invites the person to FEEL in their body that there is space for them, for their messiness, their hurt, and for their story. Empathy reminds a person that there is space for THEM in all of their humanness.
In whichever line of work we do, as teachers, neighbours, parents, nurses, first responders, lawyers, as one human to another human- how can we meet people where they are at and make the space and time to intentionally practice being an empathetic witness to those we interact with daily, knowing WE can be the difference in their experience of the world?

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