When immersed in emotional turmoil, as is often the case in divorce, it’s easy to forget that your children may interpret things differently than you.

Therefore, it’s crucial to put yourself in your children’s shoes and view your divorce from their perspective— recognize their needs. To do so requires empathy. What is empathy and why is it important? Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, a best-selling author and research professor who studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame, believes empathy is a skill set and that perspective taking is at its core.

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Perspective taking is normally taught or modeled by parents, which makes your doing so that much more important. Dr. Brown contends that we can’t take off the lens from which we see the world. We all view it differently, based on our information, insight, and experiences. Moreover, Dr. Brown suggests:

Perspective taking is listening to the truth as other people experience it and acknowledging it as the truth. What you see is as true, real and honest as what I see, so let me be quiet for a minute, listen and learn about what you see. Let me get curious about what you see. Allow me to ask questions about what you see.

Empathy is incompatible with shame and judgment. Staying out of judgment requires understanding. We tend to judge those areas where we’re the most vulnerable to feeling shame ourselves. We don’t tend to judge others in areas where our sense of self-worth is stable and secure. In order to stay out of judgment, we must pay attention to our own triggers and issues.

Empathy reduces shame, whereas sympathy exacerbates it. There is a huge difference between feeling with someone and feeling for someone. Shame causes a person to believe they’re alone. Through empathy, we cause them to realize that they are not alone, which is why it is the antidote to shame. As Dr. Brown said in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me, “In most cases, when we provide sympathy we do not reach across to understand the world as others see it. We look at others from our world and feel sorry or sad for them. Inherent in sympathy is ‘I don’t understand your world, but from this view, things look pretty bad.’”

When you can see things from your children’s perspective, you are better able to deal with your divorce not from a place of anger or a desire for retribution, but from an emotionally healthier place in which you put your children’s emotional needs first.


About Mark Baer & Jeremy Kossen

Mark BaerMark Baer is a lawyer, mediator and conflict resolution consultant. He has decades of experience in family law and has crafted a reputation within the industry for his psychologically-minded and child-centered approach.

Mark is also a well-known writer and columnist for a number of publications on the interplay between psychology and conflict resolution within the field of family law, as well as familial and interpersonal relationships in general. He has had a regular “Psychology and Family Law” column in the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association’s award-winning bimonthly newsletter since 2008. A member of Psychology Today’s expert community, Mark also has a blog column titled “Empathy and Relationships: Fostering Genuine Open-Mindedness.” He is also a HuffPost Blogger and a number of those blog articles have been referenced in books, law review articles, by evidence-based public policy think tanks, and elsewhere. Mark has written extensively for a number of other publications, as well. His material has been used and shared by law school professors, and by some of the highest ranked dispute resolution organizations in the country, such as the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law and the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program at Harvard Law School.

He has also presented on several occasions at the California Psychological Association Convention, the American Bar Association Section of Family Law CLE Conference, and the Southern California Mediation Association Conference, among other such organizations.