February 16, 2014 ~ Shame, Empathy & Limbic Resonance


Sunday, February 16, 2014 ~  Shame, Empathy & Limbic Resonance

Following up on last week’s discussion of the three layers of empathy (see: February 9, 2014 ~ Connoisseur of Empathy), at the deeper layers, what is being sought is a kind of limbic resonance, where a person has a sense of being received/seen/gotten on a core level.  We’ll continue with this theme, bringing in some of focusing’s imagery as an alternative thread in the tapestry we’re embroidering.

Emotions: Limbic System

For those who might remember last year’s incident wherein Antoinette Tuff was hailed as ‘true hero’ in a Georgia school shooting — while this is an extreme example, it is also a rather vivid one — of how mindsight can be employed towards talking someone out of their alienated reptilian-brain and coaxing them into their more relational, mammalian one (courtesy of limbic resonance).

Drawing beneath courtesy of Nancy Margulies – http://thegreatstory.org/charts/triune.html:



Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence something that wants our love.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

The IPNB of Fairy Tales: How We Learn About Ourselves from Stories

Hilarie Cash, Ph.D. on Limbic Resonance:
“Let me begin by explaining limbic resonance. It refers to the energetic exchange that happens between two people who are interacting in a caring and safe relationship. Their interaction stimulates the release of certain neurochemicals in the limbic region of the brain. These chemicals are necessary for full emotional and physical well-being. Without enough limbic resonance in our lives, over time, we function and feel less and less well.”

“At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.”
― Marshall B. RosenbergNonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Sarah Peyton’s An Invitation to Resonance: The Practice of Nonviolent Communication:

“Often, the better acquainted we are, the more likely there is to be
implicit experience within the relationship that can
bump us into a limbic reaction, and disconnect us
from our prefrontal cortex, disrupting our mindsight.”

Shame & Empathy by Dr. Brené Brown

Brené Brown: Listening to shame | Video on TED.com


Via Emotional Competency:  “Pushing a person on a swing is a common example of resonance. The pushing and swinging must remain precisely synchronized to be effective, yet it seems unclear if the swing paces the push, or the push paces the swing. So it is with limbic resonance…”


Radical Compassion:  Three Layers of Empathy

(beneath is courtesy of the work of Jim and Jori Manske)


Empathy is being with another with compassion, connecting to the
humanness of their experience. Empathy is the silent presence
with another, not the words we use. We can express our empathy
and some possible ways to express empathy are included here.

ACKNOWLEDGING another’s experience
Reflecting: Observation, Feeling, Request, and/or Wish
NOT: blame, criticism, or evaluation
“(Something) happened. ”
“You are upset.”
“You wish (something different) had happened.”
“You would like (something).”

Connecting to the CAUSE of the feeling (the need)
Connecting to the universal need/value that the feeling is
reflecting, making no reference to any specific person (including
myself) doing any specific action. Notice there is no reference to
“I” or “me” at the causal level.
“Are you feeling _____ because (need) is important to you?”
“Are you valuing (need)?‘
“So for you, (need) is important.”
Some examples of “need” words: security, cooperation, fun, creativity, love,
respect, freedom, healing, understanding, belonging, awareness, etc.

SAVORING the need
Being with the value of the need.
Connecting to the internal resource and universality of the need.
“Ah, (need)”
Space / Silence

Based on the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication
© 2009 peaceworks, Jim and Jori Manske
Certified Trainers with The Center for Nonviolent Communicationtm

Additional notes –> Three Layers of Empathy

NVC Academy – Jim & Jori Manske

[PDF] Empathy, 3 Layers – Radical Compassion

More on 3rd Layer – ‘Savoring’ Needs:

Holding Needs as a Story
(a static awareness)


Embodying Needs
(as an alchemical process)

Gina Censiose:  Key Difference #1 – YouTube

See also:  Gina Cenciose | Embodying Empathy & Living Energy of the Needs

Comparing/Contrasting the Deepening Process of Empathy (above)
with Focusing (below)


NVC & Inner Relationship Focusing – YouTube

Three Key Aspects of Focusing

by Ann Weiser Cornell

Appeared in The Focusing Connection, March 1998

There are three key qualities or aspects which set Focusing apart from any other method of inner awareness and personal growth. The first is something called the “felt sense.” The second is a special quality of engaged, accepting inner attention. And the third is a radical philosophy of what facilitates change. Let’s take these one by one…(continues)

Eugene Gendlin on The Process of Experiential Steps

Excerpt (from link beneath):  “The chief discovery in the psychotherapy of recent years is that the bodily felt sense of some problem or difficulty will move of its own accord. It will shift, and release. There will be an overall change in how the body feels, a release of energy. There is a relief. Energy flows again as it had not for some time. Along with this there is often an involuntary exhaling of breath, a “wheewwww. . . .” Simultaneously with such a release, there is a new emergence of words, or images, or aspects of the problem. These are a by-product. Usually the problem now looks different; often the problem is not even about what one thought it was about. Now one can connect backward to explain from here how one had been, how one had seen the problem, why it had seemed as it did. But there is no logic with which one could have come from there to here. The problem now posed in new terms may still not be solved; it may look worse (but it feels enormously better). The bodily concrete version of the problem (not just our thoughts, but our being the problem) has shifted in a bodily physical way. That is a step of experiential change.

It feels like one would feel, after having long sat in a cramped position, as one permits oneself to shift. It feels like the body doing what it needs and want to do. It feels like something happening that is exactly what the previous cramped constricted way of being was the lack of…”

Gendlin, E.T. (1978). The body’s releasing steps in experiential process. In J.L. Fosshage & P. Olsen (Eds.), Healing. Implications for psychotherapy, pp. 323-349. New York: Human Sciences Press.


How to Focus and Get a Felt Sense: 12 Steps (with Pictures)

Excerpt from above link (of a few of the twelve steps):

Let the felt sense form:

  • Ask “What does this whole thing feel like?”. “What is the whole feel of it?” Don’t answer with what you already know about it. Listen to your body. Sense the issue freshly. Give your body 30 seconds to a minute for the feel of “all of that” to form.

Find the handle:

  • Find a word, phrase, image, sound or gesture that feels like it matches, comes from, or will act as a ‘handle’ on the felt sense, the whole feel of it. Keep your attention on the area in your body where you feel it, and just let a word, phrase, image, sound or gesture appear that feels like a good fit.

Resonating the handle.

  • Say the word, phrase, image, sound or gesture back to yourself. Check it against your body. See if there is a sense of “rightness,” an inner “yes, that’s it”. If there isn’t, gently let go of that handle and let one that fits better appear.


Illumining our interior, without an ‘agenda’:

Recently, while empathizing with a friend, I interpreted something that was said to mean that he didn’t experience much of a sense of satiation when I attempted to hear him.  A bit stunned, however then doing some focusing on this, I got an image of a stone well that then seemed bottomless, as though it dropped off into an abyss and a separate image of something spinning (akin to a vortex).  What I took from this was that I felt a sense of safety with this friend, that he was a proverbial well who quenched my thirst, but then when I got triggered it was as though the bottom had dropped out from under me and I had a dizzying sense of vertigo.  The imagery, along with an intention to engage in an Authentic Dialogue process, offered sufficient space for me to return to the conversation and be able to hear him on a deeper level.  Then, nearing the end of our dialogue another image emerged for me (this time one that captured what I heard him revealing about his experience) of an emaciated figure wandering aimlessly through a desolate horizon, starving with no nourishment in sight.  In sharing this with him, and getting the ‘limbic resonance’ that it ‘fit’, we then both had a kind of ‘felt shift’ (a wave of relief insofar as he’d at least been more seen or known for what he had been enduring, psychically).  So while much of what transpired may have been guided by a ‘needs consciousness’ (inextricably so), it was very much infused with the more free-associative quality of focusing.

This experimental quality, not-coloring-within-the-lines (whether it’s a static OFNR checklist or even the alchemical process of tapping into the beauty/living-energy of needs), instead opts to ‘be with’ whatever intuitively arises (metaphors, imagery, etc. – what is sometimes referred to as getting a ‘handle’ on a ‘felt sense’) which can afford an accompaniment with whatever is present in this moment, lending presence without seeking transfiguration.  The difference is one between moving in order to get from point A to point B (translating jackal into giraffe — albeit not necessarily linearly, as it can be quite cyclical) verses taking a kind of scenic meandering rollick or poking about the countryside/town with no destination in mind.  So in focusing, while there may or may not be a witnessing of lead transmuted to gold (as in the alchemy of a needs-centric awareness) this is still one of the very unique aspects of focusing that is such a fascination, and while being distinctive, it can yet complement the deepening of an empathic ‘being with’ process, whether within ourselves or in accompanying another.  Its about the shift from merging or identifying with something within, towards holding a more spacious self-in-presence that can simply be aware (from varying points-of-view).


FYI ~ For more on Inner Relationship Focusing:

Inner Relationship Focusing | Embodying Empathy

Ann Weiser Cornell’s “The Power of Focusing” (Chapter One) [PDF]

Free E-Course:  Get Bigger Than What’s Bugging You – Focusing Resources

[PDF] Get Bigger Than What’s Bugging You! – Focusing Resources

Get Bigger Than What’s Bugging You – [free audio link]
Five simple and powerful practices for getting calmer, getting smarter, getting bigger than your problems, taught by Ann Weiser Cornell and Lucinda Hayden in a one-hour phone course with guided exercises and lots of examples, for beginners and experienced Focusers alike.

Our Library – Focusing Resources

Diving into the Wreck : Adrienne Rich

In honor of Valentine’s Day:

This entry was posted in Empathy, Focusing, NVC & Other Modalities, Practice Resources - Manske's Radical Compassion, What's Up Next?. Bookmark the permalink.

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