October 29, 2019

3 Types of Empathy Important to Healing and Social Change

This week, Sherna Alexander Benjamin concludes her series by sharing about the three types of empathy, what gets in the way of our having a world that is free from domestic violence and abuse, and practical things we can do to turn empathy to action.


“Empathy represents the foundation skill for all the social competencies important for work.” – Daniel Goleman 

For generations people have been demonstrating the skillful ability to be empathetic. Right now, someone is putting empathy into action because they understand that we are all connected. Yet in the home of those enduring domestic violence, empathy is very low. Perpetrators of domestic violence most usually lack the ability to empathize and this detachment makes them void of feeling guilty within. Victims in turn do not learn empathy skills and they are at risk for internal instability. 

When it comes to a national disaster or upon hearing about someone’s traumatic experience, empathy is often a first response. It crosses borders of countries, dissolves racism among sectors, removes gender inequalities within communities, unites social groups, and positively impacts lives. Yet, many in society still yearn for empathy to be put into action. 

Those deeply involved with meeting social needs often want to throw their hands in the air and exclaim, "How can people not feel what others feel?", "Why are they not acting to bring relief to the suffering?", "Obviously! Good people are leaving this earth.", "They just need to be encouraged to put themselves into another person’s shoes."; as we say, they need to "feel what others feel."

But really, is it that simple to feel what another feels? Putting empathy into action is a skill. For some people empathy comes naturally, it is a gift; however, we can all learn to empathize and do it well for the enhancement and sustainability of lives and nations. People who have gone through a traumatic experience suffer from extreme loss, pain, and separation, along with the psychological, physical, and spiritual debilitating consequences. They do not need pity; they require empathy in action.

When we possess and put into action all three forms of empathy, the outcomes will positively benefit those affected and those providing empathy. 

Empathy is not only understanding another person’s feelings; it is also acting on that knowledge. The three forms of empathy should cohesively work together:

1. “Cognitive Empathy” – is the ability to know how the affected person feels and what they are thinking. Cognitive empathy on its own can cause one to become detached, cold, and show indifference rather than caring as the person tries to understand another person’s situation without internalizing his or her own emotions. 

2. “Emotional Empathy” – is the ability to physically feel what others feel. When we see emotions expressed, mirror neurons are fired off in our brain, which creates an echo of that state inside our own minds. Emotional empathy alone can lead to the inability to manage our own emotions, cause psychological exhaustion and many times paralyze us so that we are unable to act.

3. “Compassionate Empathy” – is the ability not only to understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, but to move into action and help, which will bring some sort of relief, comfort, or confidence that things will get better. Compassion empathy alone can lead to persons feeling guilty or looking negatively upon themselves if they are unable to assist the person in the predicament.

Domestic violence undermines a person’s fundamental human right. Various acts of domestic violence are committed every second across the globe. We can no longer associate domestic violence to being a woman’s only societal issue. Research does shows that women and girls are at a greater risk of being victims. However, men and boys are also victims of this cruelty. Likewise, men as well as women perpetrate this crime. Domestic violence cuts across all racial, religious, political and academic lines. It touches all social groups in society and no country is left unscathed.

Various challenges present themselves as many work toward a world free of domestic violence. Such challenges are, but not limited to: 

• Many people see domestic violence as a ‘private’ family matter because the word ‘domestic’ is used and so they take a hands-off approach, thinking, “It’s not my business what goes on behind closed doors.” They become passive bystanders to acts of violence, although “wherever and whenever the human rights of one are violated the human rights of all are in jeopardy.” – Sherna Alexander Benjamin

• The lack of empathy towards the plight of victims, which leads many in society to blame the victim. They try to understand if the situation is as bad as is being stated: “Why is the victim silent, remaining in or returning to such a volatile environment?” 

• Domestic violence is an accepted social norm and a common experience in some societies.

• The lack of prevention education across all borders and illiteracy on the direct and indirect financial, psychological, and physical cost to society. Financial cost run into billions of dollars annually. Psychological cost is seen by the presence of various mental health disorders. And the physical cost is seen by the scars, disfigurement and death. But the cost of silence cannot be quantified. 

As nations grapple with the horrible effects of domestic violence, there is a crucial need for empathy in action. Empathy for the girl child, enduring the pains and humiliation of genital mutilation. Empathy for the woman being beaten, psychologically traumatized and sexually assaulted. Empathy for the boy, who is being neglected, physically abused and sexually assaulted. Empathy for the man, who is being sexually violated as an act of psychological warfare. And empathy for millions of women and girls across the globe whose first sexual encounter will be a forced one.

Empathy in action should come from all sectors from policymakers to law enforcers, from politicians to religious leaders, from educators to students, from communities to individual families and from families to you and me. 

Therefore, a few things need to be done:

• We need to accept that domestic violence is present; it is real and it kills.

• We need to listen attentively and honestly to what is being said, by those who advocate for victims, by those who speak from experience and by those who are silent.

• We need to have open conversations which will bring about a change of social norms, disseminate information, spread awareness and empathize with victims of this atrociously blatant but subtle crime.

• We should give non-judgmental feedback during and after conversations, and position ourselves as allies.

• We should facilitate environments for victims to feel safe to use their authentic voice, reclaim their lives, and break their silence without fear, intimidation or society’s backlash.

• Relentlessly we must act, putting empathy into action and making sure that such actions are motivated by all three forms of empathy consistently.

Empathy in action is our responsibility. The more you cultivate it the more natural it becomes. The more we see human rights violations the more we should think about our freedom and act to free others who are imprisoned. The more we look to pass blame is the more guilty we become. And the more we see domestic violence as ‘private’ is the more we approve the death sentence of millions. 

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes, we must interfere when human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.” – Elie Wiesel


Sherna Alexander Benjamin is on a journey of Spiritual Renewal. She is a Writing Enthusiast, World Pulse Ambassador, Advocate and University student pursuing a course of study in Social Work and Research to restore human dignity, tell stories, drive social impact, and change Public Policies and Laws. She Champions for Justice Systems (within the family, community and society), Women and Girls Advancement and Education, Mainstreaming of Conflict Transformation and Peace building and the realization of Sustainable Development Goals.

Connect with Sherna: https://twitter.com/shernaalexander

"We educate women because it is smart. We educate women because it changes the world." - Drew Fuast

October 22, 2019

Reclaim Power = Change The World

This week, Sherna Alexander Benjamin speaks broadly about the importance of each of us claiming our power so that we can impact the social institutions that would otherwise continue to marginalize so many, including survivors of trauma.


Global citizens move around in environments of power every day. Decisions are made every second from places and spaces of power and such decisions affect individual lives in the present and future. However, many of us are afraid of the word “Power”, we fear to speak about it, we shun from claiming it and we correlate it to something that is evil or something which destroys power holders, power seekers and power framers.

The thought of power often sends a destabilizing crippling effect which incapacitates many into a narcoleptic passivity state. This passivity enables the concentration of power, it allows power holders to justify the use of power and it gives the sense that power is static and infinite in its present operation and manifestation.

I was illiterate about power and the use of it. I did not understand it as I was never educated about it, and this illiteracy brought with it certain fears and fears encouraged apathy and disengagement in my civic duties and placed me on virtually non-existent ends of the individual, political, social, academic and economic social spectrums. 

I feared to own power because as a Caribbean woman I was socialized to believe that power was scary and it belonged to a certain group of people, a certain class in society, and a certain race. 

I believed and accepted that power was corrupt, it was bad and it was destructive. I felt uncomfortable to participate in conversations about power and would use my illiteracy and fears to criticize something I was not knowledgeable about nor its uses and I was ashamed to acknowledge this. The fears of others compounded my own inner fears and I self-subjugated as a citizen in my personal, community and professional life.

How could I acknowledge what I did not know, ironically I criticized what I did not know. Illiteracy kills development and growth and sadly many power holders feed the illiteracy of the masses and are energized by it. This fear of power crippled me in every area of my life, I used my powerlessness to justify my illiteracy as I accused to be excused.

While travelling and sitting at the feet of transformative and emancipatory educators I began to understand power and how powerful it can be in the hands, minds and hearts of literate actively engaged citizens. 

I began a personal process of de-institutionalizing my own ladders of oppression, demystifying the social construction of power which shaped and molded my attitudes and behaviors as a result of the power of social norms and the institutions which they feed into. I began redefining what it means to be a Caribbean Woman and Citizen of African descent whose parents came from two different Caribbean Islands, with two different contexts and each having a different understanding of power.

I began the process of understanding the power of citizenship not from the linear ideology of place and country of birth as this linear view have opened the doors for exclusion, permission and creates multiple negative consequences for humankind.  I began living citizenship from that place of being “a pro-social, problem-solving contributor in a self-governing community. As civics is the art of citizenship.” – Eric Liu of Citizen University. 

This definition of citizenship initiated the process of evolving citizenship in my life.

The time is now when every citizen ought to become literate about the transformational and explosive effect of civic power. Literacy about power ignites active citizenship. We must replace the thought that power is a zero-sum game with the innovative, imaginative civic idea of together (Self-US Now).  

For years citizens have been operating from the place of power is zero-sum which is when one person, group, political party, institution or community gains power then another or the other loses power.

This ideology which has become an accepted social norm continues to dis-empower citizens, erode civic engagement and enable citizen’s passivity and or willful illiteracy.  

When citizens begin to look at power as a positive sum power entity which begins by looking at the ‘whole’. When we include voices who are left out and marginalized...

When we increase citizens understanding of ‘Together Self-US Now’... 

When voice and agency and civic power are embraced and included, then communities and societies will be strengthened, become adaptable, and powerful. 

Inclusion always changes the roles and sources of power. And Inclusion always breeds social development and endless possibilities because it always inspires success.

Citizens have an obligation to understand that power must be claimed and exercise from a place of literacy. To claim power one must understand it. We all have a right to claim civic power. And we must not ask for permission to claim nor exercise it, as the present power holders who have concentrated power would use power to justify why power over should remain with them and those they appoint.

What also happens when power is concentrated? It opens the flood gate of narratives which are created to justify the power concentration, the holders of it and its manifestations. And over time due process of democracy is covertly taken over by a coup and held captive. This concentration of power establishes systems of social, economic and political inequalities. It widens the economic gaps and classifies and categorizes citizens. ‘We and Them’, ‘Rich and Poor’, ‘Upper, middle, low and no class’, ‘educated and uneducated’.

There exist way too many powerful people holding and using power who are illiterate about it. And this illiteracy begins the abuse of power.  It is imperative that citizens understand the role of citizenship, become literate of what it is and how it functions, and understand how to claim and exercise their civic power. According to Eric Liu, learning to read and write power changes the power game, it changes the power justification narratives and its changes the equation.

This is why I no longer fear to name and own power and Speak TRUTH to Power.

Read Part 4: 3 Types of Empathy Important to Healing and Social Change


Sherna Alexander Benjamin is on a journey of Spiritual Renewal. She is a Writing Enthusiast, World Pulse Ambassador, Advocate and University student pursuing a course of study in Social Work and Research to restore human dignity, tell stories, drive social impact, and change Public Policies and Laws. She Champions for Justice Systems (within the family, community and society), Women and Girls Advancement and Education, Mainstreaming of Conflict Transformation and Peace building and the realization of Sustainable Development Goals.

Connect with Sherna: https://twitter.com/shernaalexander

"We educate women because it is smart. We educate women because it changes the world." - Drew Fuast

October 15, 2019

I Hated My Abuser...

This week, Sherna Alexander Benjamin raises her voice, refuses to be silenced, and shares with us why, in the face of all of the many reasons to hate, she comes back to hope.


Thomas Paine once said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” For many the day of trouble seems to never end. In some cases intensifying with each passing week, and at times, the path which chose some of us by force seems to overwhelm us causing us to shout, “Oh Violence! Thou has conquered!”

In such times, something unseen, something mystical pushes me through the darkness to hold on, and pushes me to continue telling my story and the stories of others.

Throughout history most pioneers get the beatings and settlers the rewards. If this is true, many victims of violence who advocate for change become pioneers and walk into a different level of abuse and victimization by a society which often lacks understanding, empathy, compassion, creating systems to hold onto toxic traditional norms, and draws the strings to the purses of change and resources tightly.

Sometimes I think to myself, if this is the price to have a society which is free from violence against women and girls, then I would rather not have peace. 

This may seem to be a harsh statement, however many victims who lived in the midst of violence have been conditioned to know nothing else. Because violence and chaos touched our lives, we sometimes feel strangely at peace, but also insanely uncomfortable and cry out for help. 

Yet hope in a better tomorrow propels us to work towards stripping ourselves from finding any comfort in chaos.

When I reflect upon the emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual violence which I endured as a child, I see how it set me on a self-destructive path. 

Yet, I chose to be an influencer. I’d rather use the debris of my life to make positive impacts and touch lives. I’d rather work toward the prevention of violence against women and girls, men and boys and I’d rather feel the sting of a society than remain neutral.

The assumptions, attitudes and behaviours which enable environments of violence to undermine the health and well-being of children ought to be changed to promote healthy environments of peaceful coexistence, safety and security.

Children should never be used as sexual objects to pacify the perverted appetites of individuals whose uncontrolled toxic passions are governed by lustful desires of power to control, hurt, and perpetuate violence.

At times, I’d rather forget my pain, forget that childhood abuse touched my life and marred it. I’d rather forget and just live. I’d rather forget the problems I endured, the depression which took over at times causing feelings of fear and anxiety moving me to be a loner, self-isolating even within the crowd.

I’d rather forget the inability to trust completely, the depletion of authentic love and the self-harm which, at times, led to suicide ideations and failed attempts. I would rather forget the seductive pull of being torn between hating the abuse and my abusers, and the teenage biological yearning for sexual exploration. 

Still, I despised it all, and often washed my skin so hard that it blistered after those filthy touches. I’d rather forget the facades I had to create to survive the next day, the next touch, and to face society and the shame that moved me to make up stories of grandeur and the lies to protect the abusers while wishing they were caught or dead to prevent society from labeling me incomplete, flawed, or citing me as the cause of the abuse. 

Slowly I begun to hate my abusers, the world and life. I was ashamed of my body, and creeping thoughts of hate against those who stood on the side-lines and did nothing enveloped my mind. 

I held the passion of hate for a society that told me, “Girls should be seen and not heard,” and a growing despise against, yet a yearning for, the very touch of a man. Yet I hope for a better tomorrow so I push to survive.

While my life is continually one of transition, embracing my narratives, one of growth and acceptance, I cannot and will not allow society to say to me, “Hush!” Because women and girls voices should be seen and heard!

I will not allow society to say, “Break your silence, but we do not want to hear,” and I will not be re-traumatized and re-victimized by those who believe victims of violence make too much noise, require too much support, and ought to continue to keep family secrets. Many tried and are still trying to silence my voice. Yet I hope in a better tomorrow keeps me speaking.

For victims of violence and abuse pain passes the comprehension of the mind and stings like a craved demoniac, leaving lingering pangs that sometimes only the darkness of night or solitude eases. Sometimes the faces and voices that we see and hear add more pain to the sorrows of our hearts.

Because abuse is pervasive, because women and girls are still oppressed because of the resiliency of patriarchy, because children are violated and human beings are sold as pieces of merchandise to the highest bidder for the sexual gratification of unwise and foolish individuals, because power holders, influencers, law makers and governments refuse to see the issue of child abuse and domestic violence as national issues, and because women and girls are slowly becoming endangered, I will not keep silent. I will advocate, collaborate and work towards a better world because I hope.

I will take the frequent reputation attacks but not own them, I will acknowledge the feelings of shame but not live in them, and I will notice the ridicule and use the power of stories to create empowering opportunities using my voice, pen and the Internet to burst those self-created bubbles. 

Violence against any human being must never be enabled, it must never rear its ugly head in our present and future lives. According to Elie Wiesel, we must never forget! If we forget, we too shall be forgotten. We must never rob the present and the future of our collective memory, and we must never cheapen or make banal our experiences with violence. We must forever remember those who died, for we are their memory, our hearts their museum, and our voices their justice. We must forge ahead.

I hold onto those moments of hope in the midst of darkness: when the voices of men rise to support women and girls being agents of change, the increasing number of women who are breaking their silence, the empowerment of victims, new laws that have been passed, and the power of the Internet to facilitate and sustain change. Hope in a better tomorrow looks promising and each of us must get involved to make it a reality.

Read Part 3: Reclaim Power = Change The World


Sherna Alexander Benjamin is on a journey of Spiritual Renewal. She is a Writing Enthusiast, World Pulse Ambassador, Advocate and University student pursuing a course of study in Social Work and Research to restore human dignity, tell stories, drive social impact, and change Public Policies and Laws. She Champions for Justice Systems (within the family, community and society), Women and Girls Advancement and Education, Mainstreaming of Conflict Transformation and Peace building and the realization of Sustainable Development Goals.

Connect with Sherna: https://twitter.com/shernaalexander

"We educate women because it is smart. We educate women because it changes the world." - Drew Fuast

October 8, 2019

The 5 Stages of Hopelessness

This month, Sherna Alexander Benjamin joins us to drop some deep wisdom. I first connected with Sherna to participate in her online magazine that was being developed through her organization, Organization for Abused & Battered Individuals. In this first post, Sherna shares about an interaction with a young woman that reminded her to heed the little moments we have to bring hope and light to others. She also shares her model for understanding the different stages of hopelessness.


"Hope is that inner strength which enables us to walk graciously through fear, and misfortune while believing in a better tomorrow." – Sherna Alexander Benjamin

I met Hannah in 2015 while presenting at a domestic violence community outreach initiative. After I completed my presentation she approached me, requesting a private audience. Sensing she may want to speak about a personal matter, I discreetly moved away from the crowd into one of the smaller rooms.

Upon entering the room she began to cry, her head bowed and wiping away the tears she said, 
"Thank you for sharing your story! You do not know it, but you just saved a life." She then proceeded to speak about her present experiences as a result of being a victim of generational abuse. She spoke of having no formal education nor employment, the struggles to care for three young children after leaving her abusive partner, and feeling like a societal burden and failure.

A few hours before our outreach event, Hannah was writing a suicide note to leave for her children as she was tired of life, of all the closed doors, of all the shameful stares, of all the harsh judgments by society, of all the lengthy and onerous bureaucratic processes from state agencies and she was tired of being tired. She was losing hope.

I connected with some aspects of Hannah’s story. Taking the time to understand her experience. Listening compassionately in a non-judgmental manner enabled me to manifest generosity, opening the doors of empathy and compassion. 

Through a collaborative effort Hannah received support to meet her priority needs and follow up support which facilitated environments for her to become empowered beginning the process of self-sustainability. That significant moment and the actions which followed activated the process of restoring Hannah’s human dignity, her hope in humanity and built a hope-filled foundation for her children.

What I learned from Hannah’s story:

If we are not consciously present we can miss those moments when hope enters our lives.

* Understanding someone’s experience will enable us to manifest generosity which opens the door for empathy and compassion.

* Our actions or inactions can tilt the scales of life positively or negatively.

* Tell your story. There are strangers who are waiting to hear it. Your story should not be kept to yourself as you are depriving others of seeing hope in action.

* Just before the dawn the darkness intensifies – it is during this time we ought to firmly embrace those collective moments of hope to steer us into the dawn.

* Though our experiences may have some similarities they are all unique. Do not devalue your experience by comparing it to someone else’s. Or by rewriting it to make it palatable for society – if you endured it then society can hear it in its most unapologetic and unfiltered form.

* You are not alone, unseen watchers from the Cosmos are cheering you on and at the appointed moment in time an angel arises with rays of hope giving you a testimony for the present and preparing you for the journey ahead.

Over the last decade, I have had the awesome opportunity to connect with hundreds of people like Hannah and many others who endured various harrowing life experiences. As I continue to connect with communities of people, one common characteristic which emerges is "moments of hopelessness". At some point in our lives, we all experience those moments. 

In 2017, I created the HEED-U model to categorize my own behavior as part of my personal healing process to connect with self.

This model categorizes phases of behavior’s during states and times of hopelessness: 

1. "All is lost" – the individual is catapulted into severe states of despair leading to depression.

2. Quiet Unhealthy Adaptation– the individual quietly adapts to the presenting situation, with an "It is what it is, I am still alive" attitude, unconsciously becoming comfortable with hopelessness seeing self as a constant victim.

3. Careless Disruptor – the individual begins to engage in self-destructive behaviors (360 degree turns or subtly over time), another personality emerges to the surprise of many.

4. Blind Courageous Forger – the individual forges ahead despite the presenting situation(s) manifesting unhealthy hope living with a false sense of all will be well.

5. ReFocused Progressive Embracer – the individual analyzes the situation, acknowledges emotions and feelings, reflects, writes and ask for help creating beauty from the ashes.

I soon realized that many persons want to be a ReFocused Progressive Embracer however, in reality we often go through other phases of behavior while progressing to the RPE phase and beyond. Everyone’s journey is different. No matter the phase you are in the behavior is a cry for help and within every cry hope is present because deep within we yearn for a better tomorrow.

We often look for hope to be public dramatic displays. However, it is progressive significant moments of remarkable resilience, courage, and trust in ourselves, those around us and in a stranger which manifests at moments in time. In essence, hope is trusting in humanity to understand our experiences.

These progressive significant moments are manifested physically through our actions and validated by the actions of others. They come in small doses which we often miss favoring despair. Being consciously present while going through our adverse life experiences places us in a space to embrace, acknowledge and name those moments of hope for future reference.

Whatever you may be experiencing, when you move through those life experiences, remember -- be present, embracing every moment, acknowledging every emotion though painful, name every feeling, and write every thought. Seek out what I call "value-based support systems" (VBSS), be kind to yourself and remember, every breath that you take is a breath of hope and every time you exhale you send hope into the Cosmos. As we embrace those progressive significant moments of hope during times of chaos and tragedy we open the door for the restoration of human dignity for ourselves and others.


Sherna Alexander Benjamin is on a journey of Spiritual Renewal. She is a Writing Enthusiast, World Pulse Ambassador, Advocate and University student pursuing a course of study in Social Work and Research to restore human dignity, tell stories, drive social impact, and change Public Policies and Laws. She Champions for Justice Systems (within the family, community and society), Women and Girls Advancement and Education, Mainstreaming of Conflict Transformation and Peace building and the realization of Sustainable Development Goals.

"We educate women because it is smart. We educate women because it changes the world." - Drew Fuast

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