I just took another step toward empathic recovery by discovering and identifying situations in which I used to feel responsible for someone else’s emotional response. I remembered that I once had a supervisor who would yell or complain anytime anyone would ask him something. At very least he would bark out an answer without looking up. At worst, he would berate the person for interrupting him.
Walking up to him to ask a question felt like crossing a Bouncy Bridge. It was as if there wasn’t solid ground under me, like I was on a rope bridge dangling over a cliff. It was so uncomfortable that I found myself acting in unusual ways.
Like a little kid, I would stutter or forget my question just as I walked up to him.
Even though I knew that his emotional responses did not match the circumstances, I still believed that I had some sort of responsibility in the situation. Otherwise, why would I talk to him like a child sheepishly telling his father he had done something wrong?
I now realize that my supervisor was emitting very strong emotional energy, which created the sensation of the Bouncy Bridge. When I stepped into his unstable energy, I was reminded of my father’s unstable energy and, thus, I took on a child-like role.
This is a rather extreme example, but some people create more subtle Bouncy Bridges as well. I knew someone who was very self-conscious about making mistakes regarding meeting times and was overly hard on himself about it. If he sent me a text with the wrong time for a meeting at a coffee shop, I would hesitate to tell him, knowing he would text back something like, “Damn! I always do that.”
In fact, the second I thought of correcting him in a reply, I would notice his Bouncy Bridge and my stomach would feel a bit queasy.
He wouldn’t even know he’d made the mistake yet, but I would feel the Bouncy Bridge he would soon be constructing. (Remember: There is no space and time).
I would usually reply in a delicate way that made it obvious I was treating him carefully, resulting in him feeling even worse. Although the emotions in this case were less severe than the anger of my boss, they were just as effective in entangling me.
Bouncy Bridges are extended when people are nearing a trigger point.
Now, whenever I feel uneasy energy from someone, I employ a method to determine if I’m encountering a Bouncy Bridge. I take a moment and imagine replacing the possible culprit with my friend Bob, a dude who is crystal clear in all situations. I’m not saying Bob doesn’t get upset, it’s just that when he is upset, it’s very clear why he’s feeling that way and the intensity of his feelings match the situation.
I wonder to myself how Bob would react if I told him he had the time wrong? He would reply, “Oh yeah. That’s right. See you at 1pm then. Looking forward to it!” And if Bob was my supervisor, he might say, “Wow. That certainly needs to be taken care of. Thanks for pointing that out, Scott.”
In both cases I would not feel a Bouncy Bridge with Bob, clarifying that neither the circumstances nor my actions are responsible for the uneasiness. Rather, it’s the other person’s emotional response causing the problem.
As I am able to identify more and more where the emotions I encounter are coming from, I find greater recovery. I find more peace.
We are all empathic to some degree, meaning that we all feel other people’s emotions in our bodies. Our go-to labeling system is quick to mark each new emotion with a shiny sticker that reads “MINE.” But we can improve our lives by taking a breath and pausing for a moment to ask: “Is this really mine or have I encountered someone’s Bouncy Bridge?”