Part 3 Empathy
Do you feel me?…
Empathy is all about our ability to understand and share the feelings of others, and it is one of the most important habits of your mind and heart that you can cultivate.
We all want to belong, to feel loved, and understood, and to practice empathy for others is one of the best and truest ways that we can achieve this love that we want.
Think about when you were a child and in pain. You reached out to a family member, probably a parent, and told them how you felt. Perhaps you showed them where your cut or bruise was, or you described to them something that had happened, and how it had upset you and hurt your feelings. Hopefully that family member will have listened, and soothed you with kind words such as “it’s ok” “I understand” “you poor thing” and helped you with a hug, a kiss, a smile or something similar. You felt affirmed, you felt understood, and all of a sudden, you felt a little better. Just look at mothers and fathers with young babies and children- they are often able to do this in seconds! It’s very impressive.
And as we grow up we hopefully still have close family and friend members whom we can go to who will empathise with us: they will listen to our problems, perhaps offer advice and potential help and solutions. But most importantly, they say with their very presence, “I get it, I understand, that must be very difficult” and “I’m here for you.” With that, we feel supported, connected and understood. This is incredibly important for our health and wellbeing.
But somewhere along the line, we all can be guilty of failing to practice empathy with others, and most often, with ourselves. By looking at this for a moment and understanding it, we can gain a deeper understanding of how we can make a positive change, starting today, towards helping others and ourselves in a more authentic and real way.
You’re not like me….
In some ways, our world today is the best it’s ever been in our ability to understand and support the wonderful diversity that our human family offers: in sexuality, gender, religion, culture, lifestyle and abilities. And yet there is also a danger that we can get too wrapped up in ourselves and those who are only like us. We may only hang out with people just like us, we don’t make the effort to engage with people we disagree with, we think of others as strange and bizarre and potentially monstrous. We cannot see ourselves in other people, and so we cannot feel for them as we might do.
I would like to suggest that we make a consistent and heartfelt effort to think, to act, and to feel deeper than this. Could you see that how someone acts in a moment could be exactly how you would in the same situation? Can you therefore feel what it might be like to be them? Or could you respect their right to be completely different and contrary to you and that be ok too?
Does their difference or their strength really make you feel afraid or weak? Hopefully, you will see that someone else being strong does not make us weak and the other that we cannot empathise with is often an idea in our heads, rather than the real life person in front of us. Sometimes what we dislike in others is what we see that we don’t like in ourselves, and we blame them for it; rather than consider that we are all just trying to do our best and to be as happy as we can.
That’s not like me at all….
As we get older we tend to hold an idealised version of ourselves in our minds. We have hopefully gotten to know ourselves a bit over the years, we know what we like and don’t like, what our values are, what our body is capable of- we feel that we have a bit of an understanding of who we are as people. And that is a very good thing. But if we do not live up to this image-if we make mistakes, mess up, fail to live up to this image we have of ourselves- we can be our worst critic and completely lack empathy for ourselves.
I have seen people who care and feel so much for others, and not themselves. Where does this habit come from? We don’t learn it in school. It often comes from years of not bringing a lot of empathy, understanding and kind consideration towards ourselves when things don’t turn out the way we want them. By offering empathy towards ourselves, we can transcend the often shallow images that we have of ourselves. This can bring about a greater self love and compassion that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t allow ourselves to feel deeply towards the other aspect of ourselves.
Strengthening our ability to feel
If you have a friend or family member who is going through a hard time and is upset
- Don’t try and solve their problem for them, be with them (in person or online) and just ask them open ended questions. Resist the urge to tell them what to do or how you would like to solve the issue. They probably don’t want that, they just want to know they you get it, you feel for them and that you care.
If you see someone in your day who is suffering and it upsets you
- Think, why are you upset? Is it because you wouldn’t want this situation for yourself? Or is it that you feel a sense of justice and loving kindness they doesn’t want to see anyone suffer? Follow those feelings! They can lead to wonderful acts and moments of kindness and love.
If you encounter someone who is having problems in your work life
- Ask an open ended question to show you are there for them such as, “what is it that is upsetting you?” Listen to their answer. Allow some silence and then perhaps ask another open ended question, such as, “how would you like things to be?” And just listen and be with them in that moment. You may not feel like you are doing much, but you are, you are affirming them that someone understands them and someone cares for them.
Over these last three blogs we have looked at cultivating appreciation, wonder and empathy in your heart to allow you to be happy and fulfilled in life. Hopefully you can see, that these gifts of the heart are truly incredible; they are not selfish motives that benefit only ourselves. They are abundant resources that never run out and every day offers us endless opportunities to practice and make moments where we:
Appreciate and are grateful
We wonder and consider the miracle of this life
We allow ourselves to feel deeply and express love towards both others and ourselves
Don’t think of your heart as a small fist sized organ inside your body. See your heart as an incredible loving place, the size of a house or bigger, where everyone is welcome to dwell in and reside.
If you grow your heart to this size, then everyone whom you come into contact with has the potential to love and take shelter within the love that you have for them.
Love and best wishes,