Updated: Jun 14, 2022
Is empathy needed? Yes! Is it important? Most certainly. Empathy is the bridge for me to feel safe and secure in relationships, especially if I need to be my authentic self.
In this article we will define what empathy is, and what empathy means (the value it brings to me and my relationships). We establish reasons why empathy is needed in all relationships, and especially with self-empathy. Then we suggest habit hacks to build a safe and supportive space to work on self empathy and building relationships that are healthy and supportive.
Empathy is to hold up the space for someone to freely express themselves and feel safe doing so. The definition is the ability to understand and share feelings of another, imagining how the other person would be thinking and feeling.
In giving empathy a definition, it is also important to highlight what empathy means to and how it is valued by the recipient. Having empathy usually means having stronger social connections which are genuine and safe to be vulnerable.
What empathy brings to you
The ability to build strong social connections in a genuine and safe environment. Empathy fights stress. According to this article on Greater Good by Berkeley, nurturing positive relationships through empathy brings about "magical" neurotransmitter oxytocin, which creates a sense of trust and cooperation, creating a support network and less conflict.
Seeking to understand builds trust and alignment on common goals
Empathetic leaders are strong leaders who have the ability to motivate others -when Management Research Group examined what was the strongest predictor of ethical leadership behaviour out of the 22 competencies in their model, the resounding answer was empathy.
What empathy means for the recipient
The opportunity to be vulnerable - building trust deepens any relationships and deeper connected relationships are mutually beneficial.
The feeling of being valued and understood. This recognition of the vulnerable, authentic person holds space for the recipient. It is as though by understanding someone else's situation, there is a camaraderie of knowing what it means to go through the process together. This uplifts the value of the person, giving dignity and showing respect by paying attention.
Restoration of one's true self. Being disconnected with loved ones, friends and the wider society is a lonely journey. Showing your authentic self can be daunting, but it is necessary. Empathy creates the safety net to allow expressing one's true self. This authenticity builds momentum over time, and the habit of self-expression is formed, so long as one feels safe.
Habit hacking for empathy
Imagine a day go by having the ability to relate and connect with your loved ones, colleagues and friends through the power of empathy. What would that day look like?
In this segment of the article, we explore simple tricks to install the habit of empathy in our daily lives.
Start a question with "What" and not "Why". Starting with a Why often leads to the recipient needing to explain and give reasons to understand the situation. A what question in contrast is asking for a description of the situation, a more neutral tone is struck.
Take a sip of water
Ask yourself if you are emotionally ready to be present to listen, I do this by asking a simple question - "do we need a proper time to talk about this?"
Practice empathy by taking the initiative! Start the day by asking your closest friend or loved one, how's your day? And let the person speak past the first 3 sentences!
When having meals or at appropriate moments, practice having authentic conversations by listening and summarizing what the other person has just said.
From empathy to compassion
Why is being compassionate better than being empathetic? Empathy is the ability to understand how someone else feels, while compassion includes the action of helping out in the situation. In this section, we will explore the journey from empathy to compassion, and discuss why it is important for both personal and professional growth.
Active empathy (which is deciding to act out of compassion) is an empowering state which extracts ourselves out of the full bodied immersion of the intense negative situation and emotions, and allows our positive energy to have a foot in the door. When we are compassionate, we try to help make things better. We give hope and a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. The risk in not taking action is our empathy sucks us into negativity in a state known as being empath.
The journey from empathy to compassion is one that can be taken by anyone. It is a journey that starts with understanding, and leads to caring. By developing our empathy skills, we can open ourselves up to a more compassionate world. Then we decide on how to act.
Why is it important for both personal and professional growth?
We live among humans, in communities, at work, at home and with friends. Being empathetic helps us build connections and deepen bonds through understanding and sharing vulnerabilities.
At work, having empathy is crucial in seeing the needs of our colleagues and clients. This common understanding bridges gaps and brings alignment of goals and tasks.
Yet it has drawbacks. Instead of moving forward in relationships, the threat to being attentive and understanding is that we are sucked into the experience. Imagine ourselves as 24/7 customer service representatives for everyone we know. That can be intensely draining.
Compassion involves a mindful decision. I choose to act (or not act) for the benefit of the situation and of others, and for my own benefit. If I act, I empower myself to try to change things around. I become part of the solution, and not the victim of the problem. This prevents me from being the victim and keeps me in the periphery, able to see clearly and remain unfettered.
How do I learn to be compassionate?
The journey from empathy to compassion is one that can be taken by anyone. It is a journey that starts with understanding, and leads to caring. By developing our empathy skills, we can open ourselves up to a more compassionate world. When we are compassionate, we are better able to make a difference in the lives of others. So start your journey today! From empathy to compassion!
Here are some ways that you can learn to be more compassionate:
Be patient with yourself and others
Practice mindfulness and meditation
Show kindness and understanding to those around you by being an active listener
Compassion meets us where we are, and we train our abilities through the simplest and most direct forms of compassion. The first is to be present to our immediate family members or closest loved ones. The act of active listening for example, takes effort! In doing so, we listen out for emotions, we feel for them, we feel with them. Then an act of love such as a hug, a pat on the back, or a nod to say 'I am holding space for you to be vulnerable', is already showing compassion.
How to protect empaths from the feelings of others
Empaths experience the emotions of others and can sense the overall energy around them. They often feel the intense emotions of others which can be mentally and emotionally draining.
Here's how to manage and protect yourself if you are an empath:
Know your self and protect your space.
Know who drains you, who gives you life, and know when you are high in energy and when you are have your own issues to deal with. You cannot give from nothing, and you have to tell others when you need your own space to recharge.
Make a Top 10 list of the death killing vampires sap energy and life from you.
Make another list. Your Top 10 life giving list for self-care. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly. More importantly, make sure you know who gives you life and inspire you. Be with them more. And when you are down, know where to retreat to, who to go to for support. Make your list!
4. Meditate and pause. This helps to know you are not your thought, and you are not the thoughts and emotions of those around you. Meditation provides that space. And in times of need, pay attention to your breathing. For that is enough to give you that space to pause and ponder.
Follow your intuition. The moment you detect energy levels dipping, follow your inner wisdom. Do what it tells you. Check your own fuel tank, make sure you are comfortable to be continually drained, and when that tank is on empty and your inner guides tells you to run for the hills!
Seek out support structures of life giving friends and more importantly professional help. Your friends have their own limitations and different values and beliefs. Sometimes we need mentoring, coaching and therapy to lighten the load, gain clarity, and move on with purpose.
What about self empathy?
Before seeking out others to understand and help out, start from within. You need to be your best friend in order to operate from a high level of energy and positive emotions. You are your firmest support pillar. And if you crumble inside, nothing outside or around you can help keep you standing upright.
Here's our 5 What Questions to constantly remind yourself when you detect something's amiss. This helps you understand your internal narratives and to work on catching yourself in the act of being your greatest critic.
Life is a journey, and growth is the pursuit. Growth is an evolution, it evolves over time. Be purposeful with your effort to grow, and with the right investment in yourself, you will certainly grow and flourish over time.
Thank you for your gift of presence! To read up more on how emotions can gift you with wisdom, read my free book My Guest House here.