Reflexivity – the key to Compassion


Reflexivity is a very interesting concept. To my mind, it is an ability to observe your impact and to immediately modify your behavior based on that Impact.

Let’s make it a little concrete by first understanding a practical example and then the theory.

Imagine you are a therapist working with a client on her anger issues. Your job in this session is to make her aware of the trigger points for her anger. Through your reflections and experience you are aware that anger was also a challenge for you. Your trigger points were say some blind faiths around ‘Hero worship’ and seeing injustice due to patriarchy. Your client is also having similar trigger points.

To raise your clients awareness, you ask her to describe her last episode of anger. As she is narrating the incident, detailing the exact conversations, you observe that the client is getting angry. Her eyes become red, nostrils flair up. This is the phenomenon. In a way, you are the object observing this.

However, since you are also a human, her narration also triggers your emotions. You also getting angry. Thus in a way you are also a subject participating in this experience.

If you are not reflexive, you will not be aware of your anger that is getting triggered. You may end up reacting on your anger and may endup sharing your views and opinions about patriarchy or how you have faced similar situation. Even if you are verbally not participating, your client may pick up unconscious clues from your body language and get encouraged to share more and generate more anger. She will tell, “you are understanding what I am saying!” …..and go on to further share

The purpose of her becoming more aware of trigger points of anger is lost here. Both of you participate in the subjective experience completely triggering more feelings for each other. It becomes a friendly chit chat.

On the other side, if you are reflexive when your client is narrating her incident of being angry. You will immediately pick up that the naration is triggering your anger as well. You will observe your body temperature raising or eyes getting red. If you are aware of this you may use this to increase her awareness. You may share with her that “As you can see, your narration is also moving me. My eyes are getting red, I am feeling hot. What happens to your body when you get angry?”….. and so on you go to fulfill the objective of your session to increase her awareness on her anger.

Of course in the process you end up increasing your awareness about your anger trigger points as well.

In Phenomenology, I am observing a phenomenon. By mere observing, I am impacting it. I am at the same time getting impacted by the phenomenon. Thus there is a perpetual cycle of me impacting the phenomenon and it impacting me. This is a continuous cycle. It is not discrete.

Reflexivity is the ability to be aware of this cycle of impact.

While being in the midst of this episode of observing a phenomenon, if I am able to also detach a part of me and observe this cycle of impacting, I am being reflexive. It is a quality, a skill of being able to be a an object while being a subject in an experience

That is why you are always the subject and an object in a Phenomenological study! If we are able to clearly separate the subjective and objective side we are being reflexive!


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