#1 We believe EMPATHY equals AGREEING
We believe that, if we put ourselves in someone’s shoes, that means:
– we agree with their values, priorities, political views, etc.
– we give in and agree with the other person’s request (of time, money, specific actions).
Empathy doesn’t mean forgetting about ourselves. It means showing the other person we see them in their humanity AND (!!!), at the same time, we stay in integrity with ourselves, respecting our values and priorities.
Remember this distinction next time you catch yourself mixing empathy with agreeing and state both. If you can, offer to help in other ways:
“It seems you are worried about your financial security and you would like some certainty for what’s to come. At the same time, I have a personal policy not to lend money to friends or family. Would you like to brainstorm together other sources?”
#2 We are UNCOMFORTABLE feeling our FEELINGS
Empathizing with another person means feeling what they are feeling, in one form or another. More often than not, we tend to avoid feeling our feelings, at all costs. We are so uncomfortable with this that we distract ourselves with whatever is handy – social media, binge-watching, food, alcohol, etc.
Some people actively avoid feeling even the “good” feelings too (like happiness, satisfaction, etc.) because they don’t want to “tempt fate.”
From my experience so far, once acknowledge, intense feelings tend to transform in less intense ones (anger into frustration, despair into grief than sadness, etc.). If you bottle them up, they regroup and resurface with renewed force.
#3 We lack the NECESSARY VOCABULARY
You can’t name it though if you don’t know the word. Most of the people I know have a poor active vocabulary of feelings – while they may understand what “radiant,” “petrified,” and “livid” mean, these words are not the first choice to describe the sensations in the body.
Identifying feelings is one of the foundations of self-regulation. Knowing your feelings (or helping others identify their own) helps the brain to make sense of all the sensations in the body, find the need, and brainstorm strategies to meet that need. Feelings are important data! The more accurate the data, the more reliable the strategy.
#4 We think we are NOT GOOD at giving empathy
In my opinion, we make it more complicated than it should be. Most of the time, people need space to vent more than they need to hear us talk. I found that “just” being there tangibly, fully present, is the most precious gift you can give them.
#5 There is NO empathy for OURSELVES
As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Make sure you fill your tank of empathy by receiving it from other willing people and giving it to yourself (self-empathy). Throughout the day, pause and ask “How am I feeling?” Name the feeling, find the need behind it, and come up with a strategy to take care of yourself.
Striving to give ourselves more empathy will solve points 2-4, in my opinion. If, throughout the day, we pause and ask ourselves “How am I feeling?”, we:
- feel the feeling;
- name it, maybe learn new vocabulary (Google “feelings inventory” and have that list handy)
- gain confidence in our ability to identify feelings
- we practice creating the space for venting – first with ourselves, then with others.