Are Your Relationships Missing Something? Focusing On Empathy Will Help
Aug 06, 2022
(Photo by Yan Krukov)
Your best friend is experiencing a difficult break-up. You never liked their boyfriend or approved of the unhealthy relationship. Things take a turn for the worst and the relationship begins to fall apart. Eventually it ends and they come to you heartbroken that it's over. You saw it coming a mile away and tried to warn your friend several times, but they refused to listen to you.
You can choose to rub it in their face and bring up that you tried to warn them. Or you can offer support and confront the person you love so much. What should you do?
Be empathetic. Give them a shoulder to cry on and a big comforting bear hug. Be there for them and listen, because they need to feel like you understand. Showing empathy means being a friend, regardless of the circumstances.
What exactly is empathy?
It's described as the ability to understand other people's situations and feelings. It's one of the keys to positive and healthy relationships. Being empathetic involves holding back judgment, even if you feel like you have a right to.
It also means being supportive, kind, and emotionally generous towards people. Especially those who are less fortunate or going through a rough time.
When you are empathetic, you focus on the other person's feelings. Even if you don't agree with their actions. Thus, being empathetic is not only a good way to develop or improve relationships, but also to be a good human. Ultimately, people feel less isolated when they feel like someone cares about them.
Put yourself in someone else's shoes for a while. What would that feel like? How easy or difficult would it be?
Practicing putting yourself in others’ shoes
Think of a stressful relationship you have with someone. Could any of the methods below help you to feel more at ease? Could they help to improve your relationship, or the way it affects you?
Take small steps (no pun intended)
Get a piece of paper. In one column write down why you think the relationship is stressful for you. In the second column, write down something you can do to help ease your stress and mend the relationship. What is a small step that could have a ripple effect in your relationship?
Once you have achieved that goal, develop another goal that could improve your relationship even more. Things like setting boundaries, increasing or improving your communication, or working through issues.
Look at the pros and cons
Make a list of people who have at one time or another wronged you. If you haven't forgiven them - what has stopped you from doing so?
Next, make a list of the pros and cons of forgiving people who have hurt you. Holding onto grudges can negatively affect almost all areas of your life. So, think about how a grudge has caused you emotional and even physical pain.
Have grudges affected your social life, self-esteem or self confidence? Has it affected your job performance, or physical or mental health? Has it prevented you from pursuing your dream or accomplishing your goals?
Questions can help you learn more about an individual you want to understand. Be genuine in your interactions. Keep an open mind and try to envision how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. Try to be compassionate towards them, even if you disagree. Try to understand their perspective, even if it's not your own.
Look for something that piques your interest and that you would like to learn more about. Perhaps, a culture, population, geographic location, tradition, or lifestyle. A demographic, approach, religion, political group, belief system, job or career, etc.
The worst thing you can do is live in fear, so tackle the unknown head-on with an open mind and heart.
When empathy "runs out"
You can work to fill it up, but empathy is not a boundless well, unfortunately. Empathy can come and go. Your ability to be empathetic depends entirely on how much you're taking care of yourself.
When you aren't practicing good self care, you will find that your "batteries" have less juice when you begin the day. Or that they seem to drain completely once the first thing goes wrong. When you do practice good self care, your batteries will be full and will be able to stay full longer.
Try to make sure you are getting enough rest, exercise, and eating a healthy diet. Make time for the things you enjoy. Like spending time with friends and loved ones, making time for hobbies. This will keep you from getting overwhelmed and will keep your empathetic muscles strong.
Go forth and be empathetic
Understand that we all try to make the best choices for ourselves in situations. We base our decisions on what we know at the time. Most people are not out to hurt others for personal gain.
If you want to learn how to become more understanding and compassionate towards others, the first step is to really listen to them. Once you master this step, you'll be ready to go to the next step, doing and saying things that comfort others. Making them feel validated and understood.
It will take practice, but the rewards are invaluable.