Have you ever had a conversation with someone who’s opening up to you about their pain? What was your reaction?
Maybe you were nearly in tears as they exposed the details to you or, maybe you found it difficult to have empathy for them.
What Is Empathy?
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing. Being able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes allows us to connect with them on a deeper level. Being empathetic towards others means you show them compassion.
The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy
You may be wondering what the difference is between being empathetic and being sympathetic. Sympathy is more about feeling sorry for someone whereas empathy involves feeling with someone.
For example, if a person shares something with you that’s incredibly painful, showing sympathy would look like pitying or feeling sorry for them. You may even immediately try to come up with a plan for how they can work through their struggles. With empathy, you sit with them in their pain, feeling what they feel.
Some people are naturally more empathetic than others but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to increase your empathy.
If you’re wondering how to be empathetic, here are a few tips.
How to Be More Empathetic
1. Become Aware of Your Own Emotions
To recognize and empathize with others’ emotions, you need to be aware of your own. Being self-aware means you’re conscious of your own feelings.
One way you can practice becoming aware of your emotions is by trying meditation.
Of course for some the thought of sitting still and trying to meditate causes feelings of anxiety. If this is you, here’s a post on ways to meditate for people that don’t meditate.
The most important thing is that you’re aware of what’s going on in your mind.
There are also various meditation apps that you can download. A few of the top recommended apps are:
- Insight Timer
2. Imagine What You’d Feel Like In Another Person’s Shoes
If someone you know is going through a hard time, take a moment to think about how you would feel if you were in their situation. Doing this will help you empathize with them.
You may find yourself passing judgment on a person’s situation. It’s normal for our brains to create their own story which leads us to judge others. The best way to combat this is to work against it every time you notice yourself judging someone.
Again, you can practice this by putting yourself in their shoes.
3. Use Self-Disclosure When Appropriate
One way to connect with others is to share your personal battles when it’s relevant. Self-disclosure makes your own problems present, helping you relate to the other person.
This increases empathy.
It’s not easy being vulnerable. You can start by saying something like, “I understand how you’re feeling. I remember how I felt when this happened to me.”
It’s important that sharing your own experience isn’t excessive and it should relate in some way to what the other person is going through.
4. Talk to New People
Talking to new people is a great way to understand another person’s life experiences.
You can start a conversation with a stranger and talk about meaningful things such as what their childhood was like or what they’re passionate about. Make sure you’re fully engaged in the conversation, actively listening to what they’re saying, and noticing their facial expressions.
5. Stand Up for Others
If you notice someone is being wronged, speak up. For example, if you notice discrimination happening or that someone says something offensive, you can speak up by letting whoever made the comment know that it’s offensive.
While you may not be on the receiving end of the offensive comment, you can imagine how you’d feel if it had been said to you.
6. Read More Books
According to "Psychology Today", Emory University conducted a study on the benefits of reading for the brain. The study found that reading a novel improves brain function. Reading was also shown to increase empathy or the ability for the reader to place themselves in another person’s shoes.
If you’re struggling to show empathy towards others, it could help to become absorbed in a book.
7. Use Social Media to Connect
While there are numerous negative aspects to social media, our ability to connect with people from around the world is certainly positive.
Following and engaging with people from diverse backgrounds allows you to view life from another person’s perspective. One of the most important things to do when you’re looking to be more empathetic is to connect with others.
Helping others through volunteering helps build compassion. Serving communities that may be less fortunate than you increases empathy because you’re able to see others when they’re most vulnerable.
Many times when people volunteer, they’re helping those in need. Depending on what kind of volunteering you do, you will likely find that you’re sensitive to others’ circumstances.
When we help people who are struggling, we connect with them on a deeper level which increases our empathy.
For more information on how volunteering can improve empathy, read this post.
9. Receive Feedback
Another way to improve your empathy is to ask for feedback from your friends, family, and co-workers. They will be able to tell you how you can improve your listening skills.
10. Don’t Try to Solve Others Problems
Empathy isn’t about trying to fix another person’s problems. It’s about experiencing their feelings with them and reaching out your hand to let them know they’re not alone.
Sometimes we focus on trying to make someone else’s problems better, instead of sitting in their pain with them. When a person is struggling, they don’t always want advice on how they can improve their situation. Sometimes they just want to release it all and know that they are heard.
11. Have Difficult Conversations
Conversations on topics such as race, gender identity or income level can be difficult to have. However, they are important to talk about.
Many people assume or place stereotypes upon a certain group of people without thoroughly examining their judgmental thoughts.
Having tough conversations gives room to discuss any biased beliefs you may be holding on to. This allows you to see things from a different perspective as long as you’re open to it.
One of the most important things to remember is that empathy is about feeling with other people. You’re taking a moment to see things from someone else’s perspective and recognizing their emotions.
We live in a society where many people lack empathy; however, that doesn’t mean people can’t learn to be more empathetic towards each other. Empathy is important because it lets others know they’re not alone.
To practice true empathy, you need to envision yourself in other people’s shoes. When being more empathetic towards others, know that you don’t have to have experienced the same situation to connect with their emotions.
It takes a lot for a person to be vulnerable and open up about their pain. The best thing you can do is recognize their pain and stand with them as they fight their battles.