Taking Better Care Of Yourself Allows You To Feel Empathy For Others
Aug 06, 2022
(Photo by Liza Summer)
Putting the needs of others ahead of your own shouldn't be confused with empathy. Helping others is a noble thing, and acting with kindness is one way that you can make a real difference in the world. But you must make sure you're taking care of yourself first. Treating yourself with respect and love is what makes empathy possible.
Pouring from an empty cup
If you value your ability to be empathetic toward others, a neglected self care routine can start a spiral. You may feel bad that you can't be more helpful, but you may also feel bad about taking time for yourself. This can spiral into all sorts of negative thoughts, feelings, and actions.
This can also leave you vulnerable to negative self-talk. Which is the harsh voice in your head that makes you doubt yourself and your abilities. This is common, regardless of people's varying backgrounds. Understanding that the voice comes from you will help you challenge what it says.
Overcoming this voice will take practice. First, you will have to try and recognize when you are thinking negatively about yourself. What are the circumstances that cause the voice to show up? Each time a thought like that comes up you will have to fight it head on. Ask yourself why you would say such a thing? Even if you have failed in the past, failure is almost a guaranteed part of trying something new.
How to say yes to help
As much as humans need each other, it's common these days to automatically say no to help. Most of us see asking for help as imposing a burden on another person. But so many of us also get joy from helping others. You may get a huge boost of pride when you anticipate a friend's needs or make someone's day with something small. Don't forget that others may get that boost too.
Also most people won't offer a helping hand if they aren't in a place to do so. Such as, one might donate money if they feel taken care of, or offer a ride if they aren't busy. Accepting an offer of help isn't imposing a burden, it's allowing you both to benefit from one act.
So the next time someone offers you a helping hand when you need one, remember that. Their cup may be overflowing and they're trying to fill yours.
The road to empathy is paved with compassion...
… Compassion for yourself and for others. Try to recognize your own pain and discomfort, address it, and take steps to soothe those wounds. This will allow you to do the same for others.
Self compassion is a concept that researchers have started to explore recently. It's related to, but not exactly the same as, other "self" themes like self care or self-esteem. True compassion for yourself and others is a major ingredient in empathy. 
Practice treating yourself as you would treat a guest in your home. Wouldn't you make sure they were eating and sleeping well? That they were happy and comfortable?
Pay it forward
So all of this to say: self care makes empathy possible. By acknowledging and fulfilling your wants and needs, you can notice the wants and needs of others. You can see more clearly when someone needs something and how to help them, even if they don't tell you.
Life is a journey and we should never stop learning and growing emotionally. Results are hard won and they take time and effort, but the rewards are more than worth it. When you feel loved, comforted and cared for, you can then pay that love forward.