the power of empathy

11.9.15


Remember that little guy climbing the mountain on The Price Is Right? Well, that's pretty much how I'm feeling at the moment (minus the yodelling of course). I'm climbing a giant mountain one step at a time but sometimes it's hard for me to see the top.

I'm in the middle of packing up my house (there's literally boxes everywhere), I'm negotiating with a potential employer and I'm also starting to think about saying goodbye to my family and friends. The countdown is definitely on and I'm at one of those points in my life when I know the clouds will clear soon but at the moment I'm trudging uphill in thick fog and feel like I'm getting nowhere.

Poor old Cliff, I know just how he feels!
There are so many balls up in the air and I know eventually they'll all fall into place but with nothing 100 per cent resolved right now I feel as though I have absolutely no control.

It's tough but all I want is for someone to recognise how my current situation is making me feel, understand what I'm about to undertake is a pretty big deal for me and to let me know it's OK. I don't want someone to wallow in my uncertainty nor to overwhelm me with positivity... just to listen without judgement and tell me what I'm feeling is OK.

I know it sounds super simple but, right now, I'm surrounded by "fixers" who want to tell me how to get through all these crazy emotions I'm experiencing. The fact is though, I know I WILL get through all of this change because of what's waiting for me on the other side is super exciting and something I desperately want. And I also know how I will get through it - by keeping my head down, getting on with packing and waiting out the next five weeks with as little fuss as possible.

But all of that doesn't make me feel differently about my situation. I think what I'm really after is some empathy not sympathy... oh, and a big hug.

“Empathy bridges the divide between being separate individuals with different backgrounds, feelings and perspectives,” psychotherapist Cindy Sigal tells the website psychcentral.com. She says there are three main types of empathy: cognitive, emotional and compassionate.

Cognitive empathy is when a person can imagine how someone is feeling, but they don’t feel their emotions where as emotional empathy is when you do feel the same or similar feelings as the other person. Compassionate empathy, she says,  “is a balance of positive cognitive and emotional empathy, which prompts us to take action, as needed.”

I think this video from Brene Brown - which explains the difference between empathy and sympathy - sums it up perfectly (watch out for the eye roll from the deer - it's gold!).


I reckon we could probably all use a little more empathy in our relationships with friends, family and romantic partners. On the website, mindtools.com, Keith Jackson outlines five ways we can all be a little more empathetic to others.
  • Put aside your viewpoint, and try to see things from the other person's point of view: When you do this, you'll realise that other people most likely aren't being evil, unkind, stubborn, or unreasonable – they're probably just reacting to the situation with the knowledge they have.
  • Validate the other person's perspective: Once you "see" why others believe what they believe, acknowledge it. Remember: acknowledgement does not always equal agreement. You can accept that people have different opinions from your own, and that they may have good reason to hold those opinions.
  • Examine your attitude: Are you more concerned with getting your way, winning, or being right? Or, is your priority to find a solution, build relationships, and accept others? Without an open mind and attitude, you probably won't have enough room for empathy.
  • Listen: Listen to the entire message that the other person is trying to communicate.
  • Ask what the other person would do: When in doubt, ask the person to explain his or her position. This is probably the simplest, and most direct, way to understand the other person. However, it's probably the least used way to develop empathy.

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