The first and only step to developing empathy is to connect with people.
And it doesn’t matter if I just gave away the whole purpose of this article in one sentence because knowing and not exercising the knowledge still leaves us in the same place with people that are not aware.
Too many times we confuse having empathy with sympathy. Allow me to clarify how they are quite the opposite.
We’re all capable of expressing empathy and it’s applicable to all aspects of our lives–whether this be personal relationships or work.
Awakening individual empathy requires us to take the perspective of another. Or as we say in the most cliche way possible, “be in someone else’s shoes”.
It also requires us to refrain from judgement. When has that ever been easy for any of us? Especially since so many of us enjoy it more than we’d like to admit.
But beyond the judgmental filters, being able to sense the emotions of another regardless of how we’re personally feeling isn’t enough. Being able to not only sense, but acknowledging it through communication is what’s important.
As much as we’re capable of spreading happiness, we are also capable of feeling pain with others.
We can think of the whole process beginning from when someone falls into a deep dark well of emotions. Someone that is overwhelmed with a certain negative emotion and can’t seem to make their way back up the well. And you know what we can do for them? We can let them know that we’ve been in the same dark well and that they’re really not alone.
That’s empathy. A choice. Quite a risky choice as well because connecting with someone in a dark well of emotions means digging back to a time we ourselves experienced the same thing.
Sympathy is when someone doesn’t make the connection. When we say, “Hey, I know your relationship really isn’t working out but AT LEAST you have someone to be with”. This is what we do all the time when someone shares something with us that’s hurting them. We throw out the ‘AT LEAST’ . We try to put a silver lining around something that is incredibly painful because we want to try and make things better when it evidently won’t.
Truth be told, we can’t always expect to be able to make things better for anyone that’s in a painful whirl of emotions. Rarely does responding to someone that shared something painful with us make things better. What makes things better in the dark well of emotions is connecting with other people and that’s why support groups work so effectively.