* The Power of Empathy

One of our fundamental longings as human beings is to be heard and to be accepted as we are. Take a moment to recall a time where you were going through a hard time and someone empathized with you. How did it feel? Pretty good I imagine.

When someone empathizes with us we don’t feel judged: we no longer feel alone; we feel understood; we become calmer; we usually feel better and are more able to handle a difficult  situation.

empathy babies

Empathy is a powerful tool for connecting to another person in an open loving way.  It feels good to us, yet how often do we intentionally empathize with someone else … especially when someone is angry or frustrated?
Marshall Rosenberg writes in his book “Non Violent Communication; a Language of Life“ how it can be especially difficult to empathize with those who appear to possess more power, status or resources and those who are closest to us.
One of my favorite take aways is:

“Empathize, rather than put your “but” in the face of an angry person.”

When we want to help we tend to jump in with a “but” and a “fix” for the other person. Yet empathy is more powerful and empowering.

He writes: “I continue to be amazed by the healing power of empathy. Time and again I have witnessed people transcending psychological pain when they have contact with someone who hears them with empathy.”

Why not increase your ability to empathize with this exercise:

Over the next few days see if you can empathize more with those people who are closest to you, colleagues at work and even your boss.frustrated man at work

Really tune in to what they might be feeling and reflect back what you are sensing they are going through.

Here are some examples of reflecting feelings statements:

It sounds like you are really frustrated about this

I can see that this is tough for you

I can’t imagine all that you are going through. It must be so hard

I’m sensing that this is scary for you

I hear that you are concerned

It sounds like this is a real challenge for you

 but in your faceIt sounds so simple, yet can be hard to do in that moment. So instead of putting your “but” and point of view in the other person’s face, empathize with their situation and reflect what they might be feeling.

Give the gift of feeling heard and understood.

 

22 responses to “* The Power of Empathy

  1. I’m kidding . . . and I’m not kidding.

    Often the people who are anxious to soak up empathy are drama queens who over-react to anything and everything. Giving them empathy and attention encourages them to continue in like vein. Pulling attention to themselves and the negative spin they put on things.

    I try to cheer them up instead.

    If it works, great. If not, they can find someone else’s ear to bend.

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    • You have a point Nancy… to a point. 😉
      Empathy is our ability to understand what others are feeling because we have experienced it ourselves or can put ourselves in their shoes.
      Sympathy is when we acknowledge another person’s emotional hardships and provide comfort and assurance.
      As the giver we can choose our intention, but we can’t control the impact on how it is received by the other.
      Val x

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    • I understand what you mean about drama queens. They are quite hard work, made all the more harder because empathy to the degree that they require can be exhausting (and I am talking about work colleagues here). It is so much easier with those who are just happy all the time. However, I do see Val’s point of showing empathy for those who genuinely do have a problem in their lives… it can be a boost to their morale for someone to understand them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am not saying we should refrain from helping others when they really NEED help. But sometimes we do more harm than good when we rush in to help rather than allowing them the time needed to process things for themselves.

        If we rush to comfort a baby every time it cries, it doesn’t learn to comfort itself. If we toss someone a “fish” every time they’re hungry, they don’t learn to fish for themselves.

        When we rush in to empathize or sympathize with someone every time they have a “hang nail,” we are training them to look to OTHERS to meet their needs rather than looking WITHIN for guidance. We also encourage them to share every minor annoyance and aggravation in their lives because it “feels good” to get attention from others. (And we can give ourselves a pat on the back for being there for them).

        The best way to cripple a butterfly is to interfere with its efforts to emerge from the cocoon.

        Our struggle to emerge is part of the path.

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  2. Val, recently someone did that to me… and more than anyone ever had in recent years… that of ‘I understand how you feel’. Suddenly the weight lifted from my shoulders (that I am not doing as well as I should be) because SOMEONE understand WHY. Then suddenly I was lifted to feeling better.
    Next step, now that I know how good that felt for me, I need to learn to apply that to other people. Thanks for the reminder.

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