Learning Empathy

Empathy is something we all value, in ourselves and in others. When we feel like another person gets how we feel, we begin to feel more normal. More accepted. And more at peace.

Giving another the gift of empathy is a way of saying, here is our shared humanity. Here is where we overlap. Here is where we each get each other. And in that way, we lift each other up.

Empathy is something you might need to practice in order to get the hang of it. It is something that I try to do authentically , and automatically, for others. But, it can be hard if you aren’t really feeling it. Here are some ideas to try, to help you bring authentic empathy to others, for their benefit.

  • Spend just a few minutes asking yourself, and considering, how would I feel if I were in her position? Just let that question sit and let your intuition fill in the gaps.
  • Whatever feeling comes up, let it be. It could be anxiety, fear, or even despair. Let it come forward as a way of saying, I acknowledge the emotion she is carrying.
  • With that emotion there with you, express an intent: I like to say, I choose love for this person before me. Or, I choose to honor how this person is feeling today. Or, I am willing to sit with this person, in this emotion, and let it be.
  • If you are a touching person, here is where you can reach out. Lay a hand on another. Put your arm around them. Simply be present.
  • Hold back any urge to fix, to assuage, or to downplay. Simply let the emotion be whatever it is.
  • Stay present until you feel a natural release in the emotion or a natural break in the conversation.

Empathy is not something any of us was taught. But it’s a skill all of us can learn. Some of my best moments occur when I realize that I can sit and be present with a friend through a tough emotion. Or when they can do that for me. Empathy, I have found, helps both parties to the transaction to find their shared, common ground and then to heal.

Where can you react with empathy? Where can you set an intent to simply be present with another, without trying to fix them? Where can you too benefit from becoming more empathic?

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