By Makenna Roehr
How often have you put yourself in someone else’s shoes to see how they feel and to try to understand from their perspectives? Empathy allows us to be more conscious of others’ emotions, to build relationships and foster healthy environments, especially for those struggling with mental illnesses. The ability to empathize can be beneficial in understanding what other people experience and can nurture loving and compassionate responses. In fact, kids grow up to be more caring and compassionate in a household that practices empathy. As adults, it is important to continue to embrace empathy and treat people the way you want to be treated.
Empathy is defined as the “ability to feel or imagine another person’s emotional experience.” The three facets of empathy are understanding the emotion of another person, feeling that emotion, and responding in a suitable and appropriate manner. Empathy is an aspect of emotional intelligence and is marked as a core contributor in developing motivation to assist someone in distress.
In today’s society, we often get too caught up with our own busy life and personal problems that many of us refuse to listen and fail to empathize with other people’s struggles.
Why Is It Important to Develop Empathy?
Almost every aspect of our lives is affected by our ability (or lack thereof) to empathize.
- Empathy affects how we are viewed. Those with greater empathy skills are considered to be more sociable and well-liked. They are also easier to relate to and discuss experiences with, making them more attractive as a friend.
- Empathy can improve work relationships. Increased empathy can also increase work productivity. As people enjoy having a conversation with people who are skilled at empathizing, those with greater empathy are often preferred as managers and co-workers.
- Empathy contributes to satisfying marriages. No two people have the same thoughts and experiences, so learning to empathize and relate to your partner will lead to a more fulfilling and solicitous relationship.
- Empathy leads to better parenting. Those with a greater ability to empathize are not only able to better relate to their children and create a more nurturing environment, but they will also be more equipped to show their children how to empathize in everyday life.
Ways to Improve Empathy
There are many different strategies and approaches to increasing empathy. Although it is partly innate, it’s also a skill that can be honed and developed. Increasing the ability to empathize cannot be done overnight or through a quick fix. However, you can put in the effort to make small changes and it will lead to the development of natural empathy over time.
A few ideas that can be implemented to promote empathy are described below.
- Read widely and wisely. Read fiction, nonfiction, news stories, online content, journals, etc. that stretch your worldview and place yourself in a life situation that differs from your own.
- Grow your curiosity. When you spend time with people you don’t know well, ask them questions about their background, opinions, beliefs, and life experiences. Visit new places and immerse yourself in their way of life.
- Listen to hear, not to respond. When you’re in a conversation with someone, genuinely listen to what the other person is saying without merely waiting to respond with your own thoughts. Try to imagine what is running through the other person’s head and the emotions they might be experiencing. Seeing things from the other person’s point of view will lessen miscommunication and reduce arguments.
- Practice humility. Learn what it is like to be unaware of how to do something or interact with your environment. Recognize those times you feel helpless and let it humble you.
- Ask for feedback. Ask those who love you and/or spend large amounts of time with you for feedback on how you could improve active listening abilities and relationship skills.
- Be honest with your biases. Everyone has biases as a result of their background, but don’t let those biases lead you into believing fictional stereotypes. If you suspect you might be biased against certain people groups, talk with them. Be curious in learning about what is important to them and try to find similarities between them and you.
- Learn to apologize. If you have unintentionally hurt someone, sincerely apologize for hurting them without blaming them for being sensitive or overdramatic. Empathy results from acknowledging other people’s feelings.
- Ask better questions. Develop 3-4 thoughtful questions that you can ask in your everyday conversations with family, friends, and colleagues.
Put yourself into other people’s shoes
Learning to be empathetic is one of the most rewarding skills. Empathy has rippling positive effects. It will not only improve your relationships, but will also lead you to become a better person. You can begin with actively attempting a few of the above methods for building empathy, and gradually implement additional suggestions over time to be ever growing in your ability to empathize.
How we can help:
Norooz Clinic offers various counseling services that can help people with mental health issues. If you know someone is struggling, advise them to seek professional help. Our therapists speak English, Farsi and Spanish. Contact us to schedule an appointment today!
Malouff, J. (2020, June 11). Children learn empathy growing up, but can we train adults to have more of it? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/children-learn-empathy-growing-up-but-can-we-train-adults-to-have-more-of-it-68153.
McDonald, N. M., & Messinger, D. S. (2011). The development of empathy: How, when, and why. Moral behavior and free will: A neurobiological and philosophical approach, 333-359.
Sutton, J. (2020, October 12). Developing Empathy: 8 Strategies & Worksheets to Become More Empathic. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/empathy-worksheets/.