When you are chilled, a hot bath brings your temperature to normal. When you have a fever, a cold bath can bring it down. When you are tense, self-doubtful, jittery, or otherwise triggered, an “Empathy Bath” can bring your emotional state back to neutral.
“Empathy Bath” Tactic Overview
What: An “empathy bath” is a systematic process for introspecting the broad range of potentially conflicting emotions you are feeling, in order to regulate your emotional state.
When: Use it when you are tense, jittery, or otherwise emotionally triggered, and need a quick way to get emotionally centered.
How: For each family of emotions, speculate on why you might be feeling those feelings (both positive and negative). Give your reason in a full sentence.
Why: The 8 families of emotions cover all of the basic value-judgments that might be in play. By asking why you “might” be feeling each emotion, you can reveal not just acknowledged feelings, but also suppressed or slightly repressed feelings. By looking for both positive and negative versions of each family, you naturally balance disproportionate emotional responses.
1) Briefly describe the situation that has you emotionally upset.
2) For each of the following basic emotions, speculate on why you might be feeling this feeling in the current situation and why.
Anger: Who did what that they shouldn’t have?
Gratitude: Who did something nice for me?
Fear: What bad thing is going to happen?
Relief: What bad thing is no longer going to happen?
Desperation: What good thing is never going to happen?
Hope: What good thing will happen eventually?
Guilt: What do I wish I had done differently?
Pride: What am I glad I did the way I did?
Frustration: What is giving me a lot of trouble?
Confidence: What am I doing with ease?
Desire: What am I longing for?
Aversion: What am I trying to get away from?
Joy: What have I succeeded in getting?
Grief: What have I lost?
Love: What person or thing or idea stands out as a positive here?
Hatred: What person or thing or idea stands out as a negative here?
3) After you have finished naming all of the feelings, you may be grounded. If so, sum up your situation in a sentence. If not, you can get further grounded by challenging first thoughts or clarifying your motivation.
- Write out each reason in a full sentence, so that you can judge whether it’s true or false.
- For best results, check for the feelings in the order offered, which goes from easiest to hardest, most negative to most positive.
- Don’t skip any feeling. Imagine why you might feel it, even if you don’t think you do.
Situation: Someone just cut me off making a turn.
Anger: He should look where he’s going.
Gratitude: I’m glad the guy behind me saw me brake.
Fear: I almost had an accident.
Relief: Thank goodness I was able to react in time.
Desperation: These lousy drivers should be taken off the road.
Hope: Maybe defensive driving courses can help.
Guilt: I was a little bit distracted.
Pride: I’m glad I don’t text while driving!
Frustration: My heart is still pounding and I can’t seem to calm down.
Confidence: I’m glad that I have good reflexes.
Desire: I really need a little peace and quiet.
Aversion: I don’t want to discuss this with anyone.
Joy: I guess I feel good to be alive.
Grief: This reminds me of my friend who died in a car accident.
Love: I loved my friend.
Hatred: I hate people who are reckless about endangering others.
Summing Up: I need a little time to catch my breath and just appreciate that I’m okay.
I developed this process for people who were inexperienced in introspection. It is not the fastest process–it takes 15-20 minutes to go through. If you are in a hurry, the AND List is the fastest way to calm down.
After using it, I discovered that it had the added benefit of revealing value-judgments that I would not have identified if I just introspected feelings I was already feeling. As a result, it is a great first aid process when you are emotionally overwhelmed.
References for Members of the Thinking Lab
- For steps to challenge first thoughts, see the Three Pass Review
- For steps to clarify your motivation, see the Goal-Clarification process
- You can give someone else an empathy bath, but then I recommend that you identify not just their feelings and the idea that seems to be behind it, but the deep rational value at stake. (See this discussion of deep rational values aka universal values.) Otherwise you risk reinforcing their old baggage.