DAVID LALLY: Welcome to “The Brian Buffini Show” where we explore the mindsets, motivation and methodologies of success. I’m the producer David Lally and today I bring you part 3 of How to Love and Be Loved. In this episode, Brian and Joe Ehrmann talk about developing empathy for yourself and for others. Joe will explain the difference between positive and negative empathy and give us a systematic approach for developing more positive empathy for yourself and for others. And now, once again, here’s Brian and Joe.
BRIAN BUFFINI: Now, as we discussed in our last program, there are the three wounds of love, and those three wounds have consequences in our life today. Many of us have made choices in regards to our life. Some of us have built a rigid defense mechanism to cover over these hurts of the past. Many of us have developed destructive life patterns or made choices in our life that we regret.
Everybody listening right now has things in their life, choices they’ve made that have embarrassed them, that they feel shame over, or that they regret making. Maybe, you’re in the midst of a life pattern right now that constantly is repeating itself and repeating itself, and the opportunity to heal that life pattern and change that life pattern is to find healing for the wounds of the past. Joe, maybe you could address a little bit about life’s patterns and ultimately how we can develop empathy for those life’s patterns.
JOE EHRMANN: Well, let me illustrate the destructive behaviors that come out of that woundedness, those three wounds. We talked about the nature wound, the capacity to choose between good choices and bad choices. As a young man, I was married and fathered a magnificent daughter and divorced by the time I was a junior in college. That’s a deep pain that came out of some bad choices, that really came out of the woundedness of my own nature. That’s an ongoing pain. I was someone that felt abandoned by my dad, and the pain of thinking of growing up apart from my own child, abandoning her, was an awful pain.
BUFFINI: The wound you experienced, your life patterns, you ended up in turn wounding someone exactly the same way you were wounded?
EHRMANN: Yes, and that’s the problem. If you don’t deal with this stuff, you’re going to wound other people out of your own woundedness. Then, you think about the whole nurturing. I shared that story about my father in the basement that gave me the shame sense of my own masculinity. We talked about one of the consequences of that shame, that woundedness, was his desire to numb out the pain. I’m someone that spent 10 years with a drug addiction through college and into my early professional career, trying to numb the pain of questioning, who am I? What am I? Am I man enough?
BUFFINI: Am I lovable?
EHRMANN: Am I lovable for who and what I am, this tremendous sense that I had to project some false self to be loved and to be accepted. Then, that whole national wound, the cultural wound, the scripting that we get as young men, that somehow, you can measure your value based on athletic ability and size, sexual conquest, and economic success.
I think my whole adolescent and early adulthood I tried to define myself and made my choices and life patterns that came out of trying to validate myself on the ball field, in the bedroom, or through my billfold. Brian, you can see the purpose of my sharing here is to understand, one, the woundedness that all of us have and carry with us, which leads to life patterns that can become awfully destructive.
If we don’t enter into the woundedness of ourselves, if we don’t identify and name our own life patterns, if we don’t see the destructive behaviors that come out of that woundedness, we become the wounders. We take the people we love, the people we want to be invested in that we care about, and we can’t help but wound them, because we haven’t addressed our own wounds.
BUFFINI: We’re doing it unintentionally. It’s just– We’re doing it subconsciously.
EHRMANN: Even in the midst of love and concern for people, we’re wounding them. None of us intentionally try to wound our mates or our children or people we work with, but it happens. You have these options in life. Either you can name your wounds, you can address them, look at the destructive behaviors and enter into them, and offer those wounds and become a wounded healer of healing other people through your own woundedness, or you become a wounder, someone that scars and shames and hurts people.
BUFFINI: Just like you said, we’re either helping or hurting.
EHRMANN: Helping or hurting.
BUFFINI: The bottom line is, according to you, the key component to breaking these life’s patterns that we all want to be better and do better– We want to enter in to a relationship. Everyone listening to this and the people communicating here right now, we want to love and be loved. You and I want that. The people listening to this want that. What you’re saying is the key component to break those life’s patterns and to enter into deeper relationships of people and to love and be loved in a more full sense is to ultimately develop positive empathy for yourself and others?
EHRMANN: Yes, you have to take that first step of entering those wounds with a sense of empathy.
BUFFINI: I want you to define empathy for us right now, Joe, as far as what that means.
EHRMANN: Empathy is part of our human nature. It’s the capacity to feel what other people are feeling. It’s what separates animals from human beings. It’s part of our nature, but it also has to be nurtured. As I travel America, I think one of the missing pieces in America is a lack of empathy. We do victim-blaming. We have apathy and indifference, but we’ve got to learn how to develop positive empathy for people, their situations, and particularly, for ourselves.
BUFFINI: Give me some examples of what you’ve seen, Joe, as you’ve travel around, just in regards to the lack of empathy.
EHRMANN: If you just look at the amount of victim-blaming. You look at the pain and the suffering in this country and think about the apathy and the indifference of people’s hearts in this world is incredible. It’s a lack of empathy. We’ve had that by nature, but it hasn’t been nurtured, and our challenge is to nurture that.
There’s two kinds of empathy. One is a positive empathy. That’s when I understand what you’re feeling and what causes those feelings. Positive empathy is what allows me to move towards you, toward other people in the midst of their hurts and their need for help. I can move towards you with an understanding of what your pain is and how I can love and walk in and help and assist you. That’s positive empathy.
Let me give you an illustration of that just from when I was a football player back in the day, if you will. I was a defensive tackle. In the NFL, what happens is after you play a game on Sunday, every Monday, the whole team comes in and watches the films of the game together, and then they are critiqued. Your performance is put up there on the screen, and everybody’s watching that, and you can’t make alibis or excuses because there’s the performance.
The worst thing that can happen to you as an NFL football player is to get knocked flat on your back. It’s called being pancaked. It’s the absolute humiliation, because when you come in on Monday morning, what they’re going to do– If you won the game, it’s going to be a very humorous thing. They’re going to put it in fast speed and slow speed. They’re going to show you getting knocked down, getting back up, and everybody’s going to have a big ya-ha at your expense. If you lost, your getting knocked flat on your back is going be a shaming thing. It’s going to be pointed out as part of why we lost that game. It’s every defensive lineman’s fear.
I entered my rookie year, and twice a year for 60 minutes a game, I had a line up against John Hannah. John Hannah was called by Sports Illustrated the greatest offensive lineman in the last 50 years in the NFL. I knew that a long time before they announced that. I had a go against this guy, and I learned rather early in my career that I had a fundamental problem. He was a better player than I was. 60 minutes a game, I’d have to line up three, four inches from his face, and we’d go at it.
The second game I had to play him, I broke my hand. I’m left-handed. I broke my hand, broke all the fingers in it. In the NFL, to have a broken hand and to be able to play, what they do is put a cast on it. This is in the days of plaster of Paris. They’d put this big plaster of paris cast that went from the knuckles on my hand all the way up to my elbow. Then, you had to wrap it in three-quarter-inch tape and three-quarter-inch padding, and then they wrapped tape around.
I’ve got this broken hand. Now, I’ve got to go play against John Hannah, who I’ve already got a fundamental problem with. He’s better than I am. I’m thinking, how in the world am I going to compete with this injury? Then, it dawns on me that the head slap is legal, which means that being a left-handed player, I could get in my stance, and every time the ball is snapped, I could wind up and whack him in the side of the head. I did that for 60 minutes.
BUFFINI: You’ve got a cast on your hand, right?
EHRMANN: I’ve got a cast on my hand. I hear that plaster of Paris hit the plastic on his helmet, and I hear this little groan come out of him. I didn’t do any better against them during a game, but I felt a whole lot after the game. What I did was once my hand healed, I had the doctor bi-valve that cast. For the next five years, every time I played New England, I put that cast back on, just so I could compete with John Hannah.
He was a man of this great integrity and character, as far as I can tell. We never communicated during the course of a game, but we were playing against each other all of these years. I’m whacking him with the cast, and then he’s beating me. We get in this game– My brother had just died. I’ve gone through this spiritual transformation. I’m trying to understand who am I? What’s my purpose in this world? What am I really about?
I’m playing a game against Hannah, and I was a pass rusher. I had this great move where I’d fake one side, and I’d jump around the other, and hopefully go the quarterback. I go and put this move on Hannah, and suddenly, he reaches out with both fists and all of the power of his body and catches me right in the chest. I find myself just elevated parallel to the ground suspended in air.
I’m in front of 60,000 people in the stadium, national TV, and what’s the first thought in my mind is I’m suspended in his air? Monday morning films. I’m going to be shamed or humiliated or laughed at. As I hit that ground, I’m laying there feeling all of these emotions, and for the first time in seven years, John Hannah comes over. He reaches out his hand and offers to help me up off the ground, and then says, “I’m sorry to hear about your brother, but congratulations on your own spiritual quest.”
Well, that was positive empathy that he had for me. He understood what I was feeling, and he moved toward me with love and acceptance. That accomplished something in our relationship that otherwise couldn’t have been accomplished. That’s positive empathy. Understand what somebody else is feeling, and move towards them with love and acceptance.
BUFFINI: Let me ask you this, Joe. I don’t know if you and John Hannah became the best of friends from that day or not, but what happened to your relationship after he was empathic towards you?
EHRMANN: It’s interesting. We never developed a relationship, nor have we talked, but I feel this incredible bond with him. He gave me a word of hope and affirmation.
BUFFINI: There was a connection?
EHRMANN: There wasn’t a connection there to this day that still exists. When I tell that story, I can remember the feeling of him moving toward me in this affirmation after, really, a destructive behavior toward him in a very competitive situation. Boy, he had an empathy that touched my soul.
BUFFINI: There was almost a closure to it?
EHRMANN: It was a closure to it.
BUFFINI: Yes. See, that’s a beautiful thing, because when we have this closure, then we’re able to move on, and it’s one of those life’s patterns that maybe was destructive that time that now has stopped in regards to that.
EHRMANN: That’s exactly right. It ended the behavior.
BUFFINI: Again, that’s what this is all about. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be best friends with everyone. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be in deep relationship with the whole world, but it does mean that as you walk and go through life, that you can experience love with other human beings, whether it’s deep intimate love or casual acquaintance love, and have a more full and rich life.
EHRMANN: Yes. It helps us enter into relationships because what he did in me trying to hurt him, he gave me forgiveness in the midst of that. That forgiveness allowed us to bring closure to an unhealthy part of our relationships and could move that now into a positive full-blown relationship.
BUFFINI: I got to ask the question, did you lose the cast the next time you played him?
EHRMANN: I did. I radically did. I was so guilty. What I really thought when he said that to me, was now, he’s employing psychological warfare. I didn’t know what to do with that the rest of the game.
BUFFINI: That’s funny. Beautiful. Joe, you’ve talked about the two types of empathy. Obviously, empathy is our capacity to know and be able to feel what someone else is feeling, but there’s positive empathy and negative empathy. Maybe, you can walk us through that.
EHRMANN: Yes, negative empathy is when I feel what you’re feeling, but it makes me feel bad about myself. It makes me feel uncomfortable. It takes me back and touches part of that wound, part of that shame in my own life, and what it does is it forces me to move away from you, or it propels me to find some way to make you stop feeling that wound.
BUFFINI: Give me some examples of that.
EHRMANN: Well, I think of my own son, Barney. I had that basement experience with my father, where I got this concept, men don’t cry. It’s an emotion that you need to shut down. I think of my son, Barney, when he was a young boy, when he would cry. I remember everything inside my mind and in my gut would just want to scream, “Stop it, stop it. Men don’t cry. Don’t act that way. Don’t be some sissy. You better learn how to just suck it up. That’s what life is about.”
I remember thinking, I can’t stand the way I feel when you cry. 30 years later, I’m now a dad dealing with my own son, who I desperately loved, but I came to a realization that if I didn’t enter into that own wound that men don’t cry, I’m organically going to pass that on to my own son. I desperately …
BUFFINI: And your grandchildren.
EHRMANN: And he’ll pass it on to his children, exactly right. I started this process, and I learned how to control the words of not saying “stop that”, but I think the emotion still came out.
BUFFINI: You still gave that energy, even though now, you bit your lip, but you were still giving that energy that, “I don’t like it when you cry.”
EHRMANN: Right. You’re not acceptable. You’re not lovable was the message I got, and now, I’m giving that to him. I remember one time I’m in the living room, and we have our friends around. Barney starts crying. And because my friends were there, I remember reaching out to him to give him love and acceptance that was atypical in my behavior. I remember him running right by me to my wife, who gave it to him naturally. He knew.
BUFFINI: He wasn’t going to let you grandstand. He wasn’t going to let you grandstand empathy.
EHRMANN: He knew. I had to go back and think about that, because I don’t whether it embarrassed me or whether it just jolted me. There was a reality there that I couldn’t stand.
BUFFINI: Obviously, we see this negative empathy. We see it with moms in the grocery store losing it with their kids. You see coaches and parents on the sideline with sports screaming and shouting. What is it that produces that reaction? Why is it that perfectly seemingly normal people have nuclear meltdowns on the side of a little league baseball game?
EHRMANN: I think it goes back to this concept of negative empathy– people that have been wounded and have developed negative destructive life patterns and behaviors. I think when that coach stands on the sidelines and he sees something goes on in that field and starts screaming and hollering and shaming that player, it’s because it’s reflected back on some woundedness of himself. When he starts hollering that boy’s name all across the field, he wants everybody in the stands to know that that wasn’t about him. It was that kid’s fault. I’m better than that. When a kid cries on the field–
BUFFINI: It’s, I don’t want to be associated with that. That’s reflecting negatively on me. I don’t want to be thought of that way, and so I’m distancing myself from it. So it’s about me, it’s not about the kid.
EHRMANN: It’s totally about you. That dad that is red-faced screaming and hollering at the boy in a seven-year-old or girl in a seven and eight-year-old baseball game emotionally losing it, that’s because it’s touched this wound in him, some negative empathy, and he says, “I can’t stand it.” That’s an irrational thought.
BUFFINI: It’s funny, my son was on a little league championship team, and we were playing this one game, and it was the first game of the season. It was this gal– She was a mom with a kid that didn’t play very often. He was brought in at the end of the game, and maybe he got an at bat or two and so on and so forth. Every time, this kid came up to bat, he would strike out.
Every time this kid struck out, this woman would cry, a deep cry. She would stifle the sound, but you could see her shoulders racking and the tears streaming down her face. I watched this all season long, and she was there at every practice and there at every game, and every time her son struck out, there was this deep, deep crying going on. Then, right to her is this guy who’s just screaming and hollering and carrying on.
It was like a psychotherapist’s heaven to sit there and watch this all taking place. Here’s these kids, and the kids are crying and carrying on and so and so forth. It’s interesting, though, because I have six kids, Joe. I have a different range of ages that are children. I have a seven-year-old who plays T-ball, the greatest sport in the world, because they hit a ball off a stick. They keep swinging until they get the hit. They run.
The ability for someone to hit the ball to that actually can catch it and throw it is impossible. It doesn’t exist. If you happen to have the one kid who has the ability to catch it and throw, his chances of throwing it to someone who, on the other end, can catch it is impossible. Everybody gets a hit. Everybody gets to go around the bases, and they keep going until the whole team bats around. They do that three times, and then there’s snacks. It’s the greatest sport in the world.
Then, here’s my 12-year-old, playing the same sport, except they’re not hitting it off a tee. It went from being the funnest game, where parents were enjoying one another, everybody’s building one another up, everybody’s having a good time– It’s athletic competition, but now, at 12, there’s expectation. Now, at 12, it seems like people’s identity were written all over the game.
There’s coaches swearing, kids throwing their helmets, tears whether they make a strikeout or whether they’re able to make a catch, and on the way home, all the Monday morning quarterbacking by the dads on, “Why didn’t you did this. Why don’t you do that?” It went from being the most enjoyable sporting event that I’ve ever been at in my life, tee-ball, to, quite frankly, something that was unhealthy.
As an Irishman, I grew up in athletic competition. I played in sports and achieved at all these different levels myself, but here I am– All of a sudden, I’m like– I really got to the point where Tuesdays and Thursdays was the bummer evening of the week, because I was going to sit out there and watch this baseball game. As much as I like to compete, as much as I wanted my son to do well and the team to do well and the kids to play well, I remember feeling this dread of going into this emotional cauldron.
You describing this negative empathy, what I now understand is that there was maybe 20-some kids on the field and 40 parents on the sidelines, but yet 40 negative, empathic people, who the worst of their own nature was coming out on this ball field. Some of them were bad losers. Some of them were bad winners. You could see the difference in the kids, where it’s joy and lightness at the tee-ball, and it’s really pressure and frustration and anger five years later at little league.
EHRMANN: Yes, I always say the most competitive sport in America is parenting. It’s all these parents working out their issues by watching their kids on the ball field. There’s 20 to 30 million children that play recreational sports in America. 70% of them, 14 to 21 million, will drop out by the age of 13, and most of them are going to drop out with a tremendous sense of failure, a tremendous sense that they don’t feel up.
To that tee-ball, all the kids have different abilities, but they all have equal opportunities to be the best that they’re capable of becoming. Why does that change and progress as we move through? Why do we want to damage? We’ve got to redefine competition. Competition is a tool for excellence.
BUFFINI: Obviously, Joe, there’s tremendous benefits to developing positive empathy. Negative empathy seems to fuel those destructive life patterns. Ultimately, developing empathy for ourselves leading to developing empathy for others is a crucial piece of this whole process.
EHRMANN: It’s how we learn how to love and to be loved. It’s the critical step. You’ve got to take those wounds from your past, heal them, so they can move forward.
BUFFINI: Change the patterns. Joe, maybe you could share with us how to develop positive empathy for ourselves and for others.
EHRMANN: Let me illustrate my own journey again. I shared that story about me in the basement with my dad, the frustration of that, the pain, that sense that I couldn’t measure up, that my behavior was unacceptable, that boys don’t cry. What I had to do is once I identified that wound, I came home that night with Barney when I was out speaking, I shared with my wife this thought that my father never loved me the way that I loved my son.
I started to tell this story, so what I had to do was go back and enter into that wound. I went back in that basement, and I championed myself. I went back in that basement as a man, and I took hold of that little five-year-old Joey Ehrmann, and I walked him back down those basement steps, and there, I confronted my father. What I helped myself as a man, understanding that I’ve been wounded, understanding that I’ve had this destructive behavior, understanding that I didn’t want to pass this on to my children, I confronted my father.
What I did was stood there, and I tried to understand and have positive empathy for myself. Even though I was crying, I was made that way. That’s an emotion that has been woven into me that’s God-given. It’s part of our humanity. It’s not something to be rejected. It’s not something to be shut down. What I did was start to have empathy for myself that I can move toward myself as a five-year-old boy in love and understanding.
What I did was once I had empathy for myself, no boy should be in that situation. No little boy should be on the baseball field having some dad or coach screaming at him. That’s unacceptable. What I did was understand that wasn’t about me. That’s how five-year-old boys act. That was about my father. That was about the pain and frustration of someone that obviously was wounded, never dealt with his wounds, had all kinds of destructive behaviors, and then passed that on to me.
What my crying did was touch some negative empathy with him that he couldn’t stand. He vomited that anger and pain and frustration all over me, and as a young boy, we are egocentric. We are expecting our dads and people in authority to be right all the time. I thought I was wrong, so I developed empathy for myself and started this journey to understanding and removing the shame and the pain of that.
You know the interesting by-product of that is, it also gave me empathy for my father. I could see not so much that he intentionally tried to wound me, but he was a wounded man that took his woundedness, never dealt with it, and just organically passed it on to me.
BUFFINI: It was passed on to him. He was probably told, “Boys don’t cry,” in a more visceral way than you were.
EHRMANN: Yes, and I can only imagine how many generations in my family of men prior to me were wounded men that created and nurtured other wounded men. How many generations has that been? What I wanted to do, understanding that my son was this God-given gift to me, that out of all the children in the world he was mine, I wanted to stop that. It took an awful lot of courage to go back down those basement steps, to enter into that wound, and to champion for myself, and to help start the healing and stop the hurting.
BUFFINI: I’m curious. Did you physically do it? Mentally, did you speak it out? Did you close your eyes and go into a little room? How did you actually go about it, Joe?
EHRMANN: I actually went about it in a time of silence and solitude, where I captured those moments.
BUFFINI: In your mind or in writing?
EHRMANN: I had captured those feelings coming from that car experience, recognizing my father never loved me the way I loved my son. I went home and shared that with somebody that I could trust, somebody I knew that wasn’t going to hurt me and that would accept me, and that was my wife. Then, what I did was sit in silence and solitude and started re-experiencing, and just kind of visually and emotionally walking down those basement steps, and then what I did was started the journaling process.
BUFFINI: Did you confront your father in the journaling process or when you were sitting there in silence?
EHRMANN: Both, but you have to connect both the right side and the left side of the hemisphere, not only the emotional but the cognitive pieces as well. That’s why journaling is so critical. I had the emotional piece as I walked down those steps in my own mind, but putting that on paper made it concrete.
EHRMANN: It gave me a platform. I didn’t understand all of this the first time I put it down, but I could continue to go back and look at that and continually dig deeper as I understood it.
BUFFINI: Then, what happened for you? What happened as a consequence, as a result of going through this process?
EHRMANN: I started re-defining my understanding of who and what I was. I talked about those three questions. Who am I? Who will love me? What can I do with my life? That radically changed all of that, changed all of that. I understood that it wasn’t about me that didn’t receive a father’s love. My father was wounded and didn’t have it to give to me. I started accepting who and what I was in all of those emotions, which ends up now allowing me to go back to my wife, to go back to my relationships, and bring in more of me in to those relationships. I didn’t have to hide that piece. I didn’t have to shut down those emotions.
I now walk into a marriage relationships, into a relationships in my community with friends in a more holistic way. I came from behind that wall, and I started knocking down that facade. And I started to let people come and see who Joe Ehrmann really was, not just the pretense of Joe Ehrmann.
BUFFINI: You had to walk away from the moniker of the brand of the NFL defensive tackle, and the tough guy with the broken fingers and the 13 years in the NFL. Now, you were Joe Ehrmann, the man who was interested in loving and being loved and entering into a relationship with people.
EHRMANN: Yes, I could enter all three of those wounds. I could take that national wound and say, “That’s not a man: athletic ability, sexual conquest, or economic success. That’s not what makes a man.” That nurture wound that my father had given to me, I could say, “That wasn’t about me. I am a good person.” These emotions I have are positive and corrective, and I can understand why I self-inflicted these wounds that caused the brokenness in relationships, to go through women and a marriage and to not be able to connect and to be isolated and alone. It started this incredible healing process. It begins because I now had a coherent narrative. I now started to be able to connect my life story.
BUFFINI: It all started to make sense.
EHRMANN: It all started to make sense to me.
BUFFINI: As you started entering into relationship with people now once you had positive empathy for yourself, did you find that you were in a position where people wounded you less, like the things that they said? Let’s say someone who your interaction with them produced a negative empathy for them, they weren’t in the same spot you were in, where all of a sudden their words or their actions didn’t affect you as much, because you were more healthy to the core.
EHRMANN: Yes, I wasn’t as vulnerable. I wasn’t as well-defended. I was, “Here I am. Love me and accept me or don’t, but here’s who I am.”
BUFFINI: You’re comfortable and confident in who you are.
EHRMANN: I started to understand who I am.
BUFFINI: Once you go through these steps of developing positive empathy for yourself, how do you go about developing positive empathy for others? How do you go about that?
EHRMANN: Again, once I can remove that negative empathy, which makes me reject people, which makes me uncomfortable with other people’s emotions, now, I can enter in to their emotions. Now, I have an opportunity to walk in and to help people, not hurt them. Now, I have this capacity, and I can teach, and I can lead, and I can parent others, and I can help them make sense of their stories, because now, I am this wounded healer.
When I deal with men, here’s what I know about all of us as men. We have this little wounded boy in us, because all of us have that square, which somebody that came in and hurt us. We had that experience. Boy, to be able to share my woundedness with somebody else and allow them to verbalize their woundedness in a safe secure way, that’s the bonding. That’s what John Hannah’s story did with me. He allowed me to overcome destructive things to form relationships with him.
Brian, let me give you an example just with my son, Barney. It’s 12 years later. Barney is now six foot five. He’s a 220 pound, athlete tremendous young man. We’re sitting at the dining table, and he’s sharing a story that happened during the day that his friend got expelled from school, got in some trouble and they expelled him. Barney is feeling the grief and the loss of his friend being expelled. He also has a sense of the injustice of it, because he did not think that what his friend did merited being expelled from school.
He just starts to weep at the table, and my emotion at that time wasn’t a negative emotion. It wasn’t, “Stop that. Men don’t cry.” I was filled with a warmth that I had helped nurtured a young man that now was weeping over the hurt of his friend, because he had empathy for his friend. It’d become a positive empathy for me that I can move toward him in love and acceptance and affirm his weeping, his compassion, his empathy, his concern for his friend.
BUFFINI: You created a safe environment for him to obviously do that, and he feels safe and accepted sharing his heart with his dad.
EHRMANN: It ended this whole destructive behavior in myself, because now, I felt positive that I had helped to create a young man, a man that’s going to be a great dad, a man that’s going to be a great husband and a friend, a man that can learn how to love and to be loved in this world, all because I took the courage to enter my wounds, to name them, enter the wounds, and then change the behavior.
BUFFINI: Just to give us the how-tos, Joe, give us the practical steps to walk through this that the folks listening to this can have this type of transformation in their own life and begin this journey.
EHRMANN: I want to take them back into their journals, because here’s what I know: to journal is to journey. When you start writing, you start digging deeper. What you have to do with this journal is understand that this is a place of privacy. This is your journal. That privacy is to be respected. When you understand that and when you can protect that, that allows you to be honest, because the reality is if you think somebody’s going to read this, you’re going to edit this, your story. You’re not going to be able to tell this story.
I think what you need to do in this journaling is to just learn how to vent. Just don’t think a whole lot. Just start writing on it. Don’t worry about grammar or syntax. Just start writing some words and thoughts and expressions down. Here’s what we’ve done. I’d like people to just start writing and acknowledge about their own woundedness, whether it was self-inflicted, whether it’s been part of their nurture, or whether it’s been national, as we have defined it.
Has it been a cultural wound, it’s been part of a parenting or friendship, or is it bad choices that we made? Acknowledge whatever area you’re woundedness is. Then, just write out a paragraph or so and personally embrace your own pain. Get in touch with the anger and the hurt and just vent on that in your journal. Then, start thinking about once you’ve identified that, how might you champion yourself? How might you go back into that area of woundedness now as an adult, see that it was wrong- it wasn’t really about you- and learn how to develop empathy for yourself, and write out those feelings of positive empathy about the situation in which you were wounded.
BUFFINI: In regards to this, what part does faith play in this whole process? It’s obviously difficult for a person to heal themselves. What part does faith play in this healing process?
EHRMANN: Well, I think faith is a tremendous piece, because again, it’s about transcendence. It’s about transcending yourself to some higher power, some rhyme and rhythm of this universe. In my own champion, in my faith tradition, we hold that the Son of God is Jesus. What I did was not only go back down in the basement as an adult with the young Joey Ehrmann, I also took Jesus, my higher power, down into that basement. I allowed him to speak words of love or affirmation to me. I think a lot of us are so wounded we need to just be in silence and solitude, and we need to somehow hear the still whisper of God to speak words of love and acceptance and hope to you.
BUFFINI: Ultimately how to love and be loved has a tremendous spiritual connotation to it, and many people have a wound that they may even feel was inflicted to them by God. They have a God wound, and that’s how they’ve described it. Having an opportunity to develop empathy in their relationship with God– because in my life, what I’ve found is that in direct proportion to how someone has a relationship with God, they seem to have relationship with other people. I just wanted to hear what your particular process was there, and that was not only did you champion yourself, but in your faith tradition, you found that your relationship with God, that you allowed God to be your champion in the healing process here.
EHRMANN: Think about it. The most powerful spiritual movement, healing movement, in the world is AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. It takes all of those destructive behaviors, the numbing out, the burning out, and the dropping out. It seeks a higher power. You name what faults you did, what hurts you had, how you hurt other people, and then you seek some forgiveness for that and acceptance of self.
BUFFINI: Powerful stuff. Just to summarize here, we’ve defined empathy itself, and now we know the reasons for empathy. If we don’t develop positive empathy in our life, we’re going to continue to live in the consequences of our woundedness, that not dealing with those wounds or ignoring them or saying, “Suck it up, they don’t exist. Get over it,” that those wounds still exist, and life’s patterns will be developed as a consequence of them.
Those life’s consequences and those choices that we make develop these patterns, some of which are destructive, some of which open big ways, whether it be drugs, alcohol or abuse, or some that show up in other destructive patterns, how we interact with our spouse, our loved ones, how we scream on the sidelines of a ball game, how we actually deal with other people, and the reactions that we have, whether someone is doing something that just annoys us because it’s something that’s part of our life’s patterns that we just haven’t dealt with, and that we either develop positive empathy for ourselves and for others, or we will live in an environment of negative empathy, and that that will bring out the worst in us.
Those patterns will continue to recycle themselves until we either help or hurt. We either are the people who help other people and develop relationships around us and encourage relationships around us, or we become the wounder ourselves, and that the very wounds we haven’t dealt with will manifest themselves in our life patterns, and we will then wound other people, our families, our children, so on and so forth.
Very powerful information here. The key, the journal. The key is to sit in solitude. The key is to ask yourself, “Who am I? Who will love me? What can I do with my life?”
DAVID LALLY: Thanks for tuning in today. Be sure to join us for part four as Brian and Joe discuss the process and purpose for healing. And if you missed the start of the series, be sure to check out those episodes too as the tools and concept build upon one another throughout the series.
Until next time, I’ll leave you with Brian’s mom for an Irish blessing.
THERESE BUFFINI: May the road rise up to meet you, and may the wind always be at your back. May the rain fall soft upon your fields, and sun shine warm upon your face. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand. See you next time.