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It’s Hard to Have Empathy if You’re Blocking Me!

A record snowfall in Prince George this week stranded drivers and shut down many services for a few days. Trying to get to work in blizzard conditions, I realized how difficult it is to feel empathy for someone who is blocking you.

Winter Conditions Are Stressful

My husband Jim called to warn me that I might have difficulty getting to work that morning. I was nervous heading out and it didn’t take long to realize that it would indeed be challenging to get to the main road where I would find better conditions.

I slowly rounded the corner and there, blocking my path, was a truck stuck in the middle of the road. There was no way to get around her. Although a couple of men were working hard to get her off the road, it was apparent she wasn’t going anywhere soon.

If I waited for the truck move, I would be late for work. If I backed up and turned around, I risked getting stuck myself in the deep snow. I felt irritated and annoyed with the driver as I considered my predicament. She was literally and figuratively blocking me.

After weighing my options, I carefully turned around and made my way down a different side street. I made it to the main road and proceeded cautiously to work. I saw a few more people stuck in the snow, and it occurred to me that the empathy I felt for them was greater than the empathy I felt for the woman who blocked me.

It is challenging to experience empathy for another person when his or her behaviour negatively impacts you in some way.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) teaches skills to decrease stress and anxiety while increasing empathy for yourself and others. No one is perfect all the time, which is why Mindfulness is called a practice. And clearly, I need more practice!

Willing Hands and Loving Kindness

I imagine how things might have gone if I had sat for a moment with willing hands, a half smile on my face, and a thought of loving kindness towards the woman who, through no fault of her own, was interfering with my goals.

With hands turned up in an accepting stance, I could have repeated a mantra such as, “I wish you love, I wish you joy, i wish you health, and I wish you to get out of the snow quickly so you can get on with your day.” I could have said this for the woman, and then I could have said the same mantra for myself, and for everyone struggling with the snow that day.

What Would Loving Kindness Have Accomplished?

The woman in the truck probably didn’t know I was annoyed with her (though she might have assumed it). However, if I had extended loving kindness to her and followed it up with a smile and a wave, I might have reduced her stress that day. I missed the opportunity to spread kindness because of my preoccupation with my own needs and wants.

Even if she didn’t notice or benefit from my loving kindness, I would have benefited from extending it. Offering loving kindness to yourself and others reduces stress and anxiety. It is both calming and reaffirming, reminding us that we are all doing the best we can, and all are worthy of love and compassion.

“Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use.” Gandhi

To learn more about DBT, or if you are interested in counselling services, please visit Validity Counselling's homepage,

Author: Jenny DeReis

Jenny is CEO and therapist at Validity Counselling in Prince George, BC. She has a Master's Degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary.

Jenny has intensive and advanced training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) from Dr. Charlie Swansen, author of several books on DBT . She has also received DBT training from the Behavior Tech Institute, and from DBT expert Sherri Van Dijk.


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