All about developing rock-solid empathy
Welcome to another weekly newsletter, lovingly named the “Beyond The Breakup Newsletter.”
It’s the newsletter that provides you with big ideas on how to grow and improve as a person and build better relationships so you can avoid a future breakup.
sign up and join the adventure!
Along with the fancy weekly newsletter, I’m also going to give you access to 4 exercises that will help you stop obsessing over your ex as soon as you sign up.
Today’s topic is empathy – an indispensable yet easily overlooked ingredient of any abiding relationship – like boundaries! More specifically, we’re going to be discussing:
- What holds people back from developing it.
- So let’s get right into it.
What is empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. So, cultivating it means getting better at recognizing other people’s feelings. It can also be defined as evaluating someone’s emotional state from moment to moment or, as Carl Rogers put it, “to perceive the internal frame of another person.”
I assume that you already know how vital cultivating empathy is for fostering satisfying relationships, whether romantic or platonic. Thus, I will spare you the discussion of its benefits.
Let’s get straight into its practical aspects.
Empathy is made of two elements: the first one is the skill to absorb and mirror a person’s emotions. The second is the ability to piece together what individual emotions someone felt and why they felt them.
For example, let’s say your friend tells you a secret. He pulls you close and whispers, “Billie just dumped me. What can I do to stop feeling like shit?”
If you have your empathy skills on point, you’re going to feel bad when your friend tells you how they’ve been dumped (you absorb and mirror their emotions). Next, you’re probably going to want to understand their situation further. So you would ask them follow-up questions (trying to piece together what they feel and why).
What Holds Someone Back From Developing Empathy
People’s common misconception about empathy is that they think it’s a trait and not a learnable skill. Newsflash, this belief is total bullshit.
You can not only learn empathy; you can also master it over time with practice. So, where do you start with this practice? With the three tips below:
HOW TO DEVELOP EMPATHY – 3 TIPS AND AN EXERCISE
1. Work on your self-awareness: By knowing and learning to observe your own emotions, you can have an easier time feeling-in or sensing another person’s emotional world.
2. Work on self-compassion: Self-compassion and empathy work hand in hand. By developing self-compassion, you begin to improve your empathy skills and vice versa. You can read about self-compassion (and self-love) in this newsletter.
3. Work on reading subtle emotional cues of others: Everyone is broadcasting emotions when interacting with you. Sometimes you can see or feel them clearly, other times less so.
So, to elevate those empathy skills of yours, try analyzing what emotions are the people around you transmitting. Look for the subtle cues behind their words and actions, for instance – pauses, fluctuations in pitch, facial expressions, etc.
For example, when you ask someone for help, it’s way different when they gaze up into your eyes and graciously respond with “sure! No problem,” than when they respond with “ok…fine,” in a wishy-washy tone and with their eyes aimed straight to the ground.
Anyhow, here’s an exercise that I’ve picked up along my breakup recovery journey that helped me build my empathy skills. I also shared this with the clients who needed it, and they got some great results.
The whole activity is simple, and it goes like this:
Go and sit somewhere where there is a lot of people and begin observing them. Keep looking at them for a few minutes. Examine their expressions, scrutinize their body language, then try to think about how they feel at the moment.
After doing this for a few minutes, remind yourself of a crucial and often omitted truth: You’re just like them. Like them, you have your own set of issues, worries, pet peeves, dreams, desires, fears, and ambitions.
Let’s go even deeper.
Ponder on the fact that each one of the people you see around you has experienced times of joy, anxiety, shame, sorrow, and frustration. They all had their wins and downfalls, some better, some worse.
Like you, they’re human. Try to ‘feel’ or take in their full and fragile humanness and utter dysfunction – the same dysfunction we are all carrying.
After repeating this exercise for a while, notice how you feel. More often than not, you’re probably going to start treating people less as objects or labels but more like, well…people.
When this happens, you’re powering up your empathy skills. Congrats.