We've all heard the word "Empathy" but how many of us truly understand it? Empathy, as opposed to sympathy or compassion is the feeling of simultaneously understanding and experiencing the emotions of another person. My personal definition of empathy is an intelligent and egoless connection and understanding. I think it's important to know your definition of empathy so you can better practice it yourself and ask for it from others.
How often have you felt like the only people who understand certain moments in your life are the people who've gone through them as well? In times of crisis we connect with people who have been through similar experiences. For many, the logic is simple, we find ourselves debating if someone can truly understand us without having walked in our shoes; Can someone understand my loss without having experienced it? How can my friend get what it feels like to be broken up with when she's never had it happen herself? No one understands how painful it is to try to have a baby and not have any luck!
But it's important to remember that you don't need to have had these things happen to you in order to exercise empathy. When someone needs support, ask questions, be conscious of how the situation would make you feel and show them you love them through your effort to understand. Lending your heart and ears and exercising empathy makes others feel safe, understood and loved- it's simple.
In trying to dig into the feelings of another person and experiencing them yourself, you actively make the choice to learn something new. Imagine how much you'll learn about yourself if you do this everyday; if you ask yourself important questions about how things make YOU feel?
It isn't as big of a task as you may think. Think about the people you see or talk to everyday; co-workers, family, friends. We often forget that everyone has lives outside of the conversation or moments we're sharing. They have things they don't talk about; insecurities, heartbreaks, moments of joy and yes, deep sadness. Why not try to ask a new question to every person you interact with on a daily basis? Go beyond: "How's it going?" and ask about what they are planning on doing in the future, ask about family, touch base about how they are feeling at work.
Don't pry but be aware. Show the people around you that you care. It ultimately benefits YOU.
I promise once you've taken the time to ask and analyze your approach to empathy and how you practice it, you'll walk away with a deeper understanding of yourself and how to navigate relationships with others.
Understanding and practicing empathy can give you the tools to be a more supportive partner, friend and parent. It can also help you challenge your own worldview, expanding your emotional knowledge of yourself. Practicing empathy has no bad outcome, so pay it forward and exercise your empathy!