Step IV – Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Discover.
Step IV is basically just repeating Steps I, II, and III and over again and trying to get a little bit deeper every time. Here’s an example from poker that illustrates how this works.
The most basic poker player is only thinking about one thing: What cards they are holding and what kind of hand they can make with those cards. This doesn’t get you very far and you soon discover that you have to start thinking about what cards your opponents are also holding so that you can know if you are able to beat them.
Eventually, you realize that your opponent is also thinking about what cards you are holding and sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong. You realize you can exploit it when they are wrong and start to bluff them, so the next level is to start guessing what your opponent thinks you are holding. If you opponent has any skill, they are doing the same thing about you. So, in order to stay one step ahead of the game, you must now think about what your opponent is thinking about you think they are holding.
Can you see how this can just get deeper and deeper? Really advanced poker players are taking this kind of guesswork down 7 or 8 levels and they are frighteningly good at it. They are almost engaging in a form of radical radical radical radical empathy. We don’t have to get that complicated, but it does help to take a similarly rigorous approach.
The way I have discovered to execute Step IV is to constantly switch between looking at things through my perspective and someone else’s. Each time I switch perspectives I make a new discovery – a new possibility about what the other person could be thinking and how I may have been misinterpreting and misjudging them.
The more you do this, the more you switch roles back and forth, the less you will see other people’s differences that make their behavior mysterious, frustrating, and feel like cruelty. Instead, you will start to see them as you and yourself as them. You will start to merge your identities as you come to a deeper understanding of your nature and theirs, because you will be discovering all the things you share in common.
Does this go on forever in a never ending spiral? No. It cannot possibly go on forever? So, how do you know when to stop? How do you know when you have mined the limits of “possibility discoveries” and you can go no further? You know it is time to stop when you discover the hidden, secret Step V.
I cannot tell you what Step V is. If I did, I would spoil Step IV for you. You will know Step V just as clearly as I have known it only after you have successfully completed Steps I through IV. You don’t need to hear Step V from me. You’re going to tell me about it.
Here is how I have been putting Step IV into practice.
I have been taking this Batterer Intervention course on Open Path Collective, and let me tell you, it has opened my eyes to a lot. I highly recommend you get an account there and take the Domestic Violence course – it is designed for victims rather than perpetrators, but is basically all the same material in the Batterer Intervention course. I highly recommend that you do this so that you can practice these steps with me as you go through the course.
As I have been going through the course, I noticed that it presents both sides of the equation: It talks about victims and abusers and how they feel and react to each other. I have been double reading the material and on each pass I have been placing you and myself in each of those roles. Then, I continue to think about things and go back and forth in my head, trying to discover new possibilities and insights about you and myself.
When I am looking at myself in the abuser role, since I know my heart and my motivations, it is easy for me to dismiss some of the causes of abuse as not applying to me. When I do this, I have been trying to see things through your eyes and really examine my behaviors – divorced from the motivations behind them – and how you would have experienced things I did and then easily drawn conclusions from them about what my motivations actually were. It becomes easier for me to see why you might assume motivations behind my behaviors that I feel aren’t there.
When I am looking at you in the abuser role, since I don’t know your heart and motivations, it is easy for me to assume that the causes of abuse listed in the sessions apply to you. When I do this, I have been trying to see things through your eyes and really examine your behaviors – divorced from the motivations behind them – and how what I experienced doesn’t necessarily mean that the conclusions I want to draw about your motivations are true.
This constantly switching roles and constantly trying to see things through your eyes has been so helpful. It has made me realize that we are not really that different. The reasons I am so tempted to see you as a “monster” are probably the exact same reasons you might feel like I am one. In the same way that I am feeling misjudged and misunderstood, I have probably misjudged and misunderstood you.
One of the best things I have read so far is about how abusers often abuse because they are reacting to a need the expected someone to meet and wasn’t. They make assumptions about the person who did not meet that need and they react by trying to control or lash out. I can so see that applying to both of us.
Slowly but surely, I am starting to see each of us less as someone who is an abuser and someone who was victimized. I am starting to see all of the ways in which we are the same – we are going through the same struggles, emotions, have a lot of the same baggage, and have been reacting in the same unhealthy ways.
One might stop there and say, “Okay, so we are equally to blame,” but I am realizing now that it isn’t even about blame. I am realizing that the most healthy way to look at you is not with blame at all, but with grace and forgiveness. The most healthy way to look at myself is with blame – to the extent that I take full ownership of my actions and don’t try to justify anything – but then to extend that same grace and forgiveness to myself. I can move from a judgmental mindset to one of acceptance. And it is only by doing this that I can begin to truly forgive and heal. This is what Radical Empathy is all about.
It is only when I take responsibility for my sins can I truly lay them on the alter and allow God to absolve me of them. And it is only after I do that can I see you and your sins clearly and have the ability to let them go and forgive you as well. And through that process, that pendulum constantly swing back and forth between owning my own sins and allowing myself to completely forgive you of yours, that healing is starting to take place. That is because as I engage in this process I am not seeing us as two different people but as the same person with the same struggles, the same sins, the same motivations, the pains, and the same confusions about what happened in our marriage.
That is how I am stepping into radical empathy.
I understand that for you, the process may be different and you are probably at a completely different place than I am or ever was while approaching this journey. You likely certainly feel more victimized than I ever did. You certainly have different beliefs about marriage and the possibility of reconciliation than I do. That is totally fine.
My purpose of sharing all this with you is just to let you know that at a very basic level I can identify with a lot of what you are struggling with – the whirlwind of this all, the shock, the loss, the pain, the disbelief. And I wanted to show you the door through which I have passed to find myself on the path of healing. There are many paths we could take, many of them feel right and feel good but aren’t necessarily healthy. I don’t know what path you are on or if it is the right one for you. But I do know that embracing radical empathy has been extremely helpful for me, and if it could be helpful for you, I wanted to guide you to that doorway.
This process is extremely painful and takes a lot of hard work. It is emotionally, mentally, and even physically draining. It is so worth it, though. It is worth it because the alternative is so frightening. The alternative is to rationalize, to bury, to ignore, and to not deal with my own actions and the hurt caused to me by others. If I don’t deal with these things I am dooming myself to just keep repeating them. I have no doubt that a big part of the reason we found ourselves in this exact place we are now is because of my failure to properly deal with these things when they have come up in the path.
I don’t want to spend the rest of my life just repeating the same mistakes over and over. That means I have to brutally honest with myself and take full responsibility of myself and not label or consign you to a box as just some “other person” who did some really hurtful things to me. I have to discover Radical Empathy in order to forget a new path forward and discover the wide open possibilities of my life that I have yet to discover and realize, the promise of a future I am dreaming of and so desperately want to make a reality.
I wish I had a nice short video that could explain all of this better than I can. Instead, I have a sermon. I will tell you though, I have watched this sermon at least eight or nine times over the past few months. I keep going back to this sermon because it is a crystal clear reminder to me of how to engage in these steps (especially Step III) and to open myself up to new possibilities I never imagined for my life through reliance on my Creator. I recommend you sermon this video and when things get tough as you go through this process to refer back to it often.