Words I have eliminated from my vocabulary, in or out of the therapy room: ” I know how you feel.” Instantly, whatever it is you were feeling is invalidated, and reduced to a common experience you never agreed to share. Yet, it is conventional aphasia therapy wisdom that one of the reasons aphasia groups thrive is because of the empathy they engender among members.
I think not.
Empathy does not develop automatically because of a shared experience. It grows out of a very deep, almost mystical connection that forms when one person’s soul momentarily touches that of another. In that moment all of the experience is re-experienced in the other. Words never have to be said, although there is often a feeling of needing to physically touch.
Years ago, I watched the film, Resurrection, and was transfixed watching Ellen Burstyn in this scene. In the film, she survives an almost fatal crash, and discovers that she is able to heal others afterward. At one point, the scientific community decides to test the claims others have made about her:
We must never assume that simply because two people have travelled the same road, they must understand each other’s journey.
They wonder of empathy is that it does indeed happen at all.