Who can avoid suffering in their life?
It’s all around us. It’s even inside us. If you watch a homeless old man on the side of the pavement you would naturally feel sad for him. But only a few of us will actually do something for him.
Despite what most of us think, feeling bad for someone is not empathy. Before we jump into what is empathy, let’s talk about what empathy is not.
Empathy is not pity. Feeling sad or uncomfortable about seeing someone else in misery can be defined as pity. If you pity someone, you will most likely, only feel bad for them. That makes pity an acknowledgment of someone else’s pain.
Going one step further brings us to sympathy. Sympathy is not empathy. It’s the physical display of pity in hopes of relieving the other person of his suffering. You might want to invest in the well-being of someone without actually knowing their struggle.
What is empathy?
Empathy revolves around care for someone you know. Feeling their pain and putting in the effort to understand what they are going through. Not all those who know us personally care about our pains. It’s not a rule as some of you might be tricked into thinking.
One step ahead of empathy lies compassion where you pair empathy or sympathy with a desire to ease someone else’s pain. This is where you seek solutions. You don’t just feel pity or try to understand their situation before walking away. You do something for them.
Simply put, empathy is your ability to share and understand another person’s emotions.
It’s reflecting the thought that I see you hurting, I care about you, even though I have my own set of hurt. I’ll put it right here, not back there, and help you in yours.
Being an empath is important and can greatly improve your relationship with people around you but it can also cause you to overwhelm yourself. Living someone else’s pain can be emotionally draining for you yourself.
Therefore, it’s important to know how to be an empath when you are, yourself, hurting.
Try to relate
Learn from all the experiences that hurt you and show kindness to others when they hurt in a similar fashion. Develop the mindset; when you grow up without love you want everyone to have it. When we have experienced pain first hand ourselves, you can relate to others’ pain vividly.
Be mindful of body language and non-verbal cues
People who are going through an emotional dissonance or are in pain usually show signs via body language. You need to keep a lookout for these non-verbal cues. It can root in anything they do, how they look, and how they respond to certain situations.
Be a very good listener
To show empathy you need to be a good listener. It’s crucial to hear people out before you can consider having a soft corner for them. Listening helps you understand them better. It helps them feel important. Sometimes just having someone who can hear us out can help us heal. Although, be mindful of not giving people a chance to develop this into a habit. Once you are there, they might want you every time they want to rant.
Listening to someone in pain is not equal to listening to someone who wants to complain about pretty much everything in life. Suffering is there for everyone. You need to set your boundaries of where you want to show empathy vs. where it’s just not worth it.
Invite them to share more
When you feel someone is going through a storm in their lives and you can sense they need some empathy to feel better, prompt them to share more. Let them bring everything out. It often helps them make sense of the situation themselves.
There have been countless times when I start sharing my pain with someone who actually cares that I start finding meaning in my adversity. It gives me the confidence and self-worth that often goes missing in any emotional havoc.
Resist passing judgment or giving advice
If you are like most of us, you might feel the urge to give advice to someone who shares their pain with you. That’s not really correct. Asking for advice should be reciprocated with giving one. That too just as your opinion, without feeling off when someone decides to deal with the situation in any other way. You were asked for help, give it without thinking what they are going to make of it.
Another vice associated with listening to someone’s deepest darkest moments is that we start passing judgment. Just take a pause and imagine yourself in that situation. Would you like to be judged? No, right?
Set your bar of who not to be
Being an empath comes with the opportunity to learn a lot in life. When you know what can potentially hurt people, be mindful of not doing it yourself to people in your life. It gives you an opportunity to understand human behavior and be better at handling tougher situations in life.
All you need is the ability to feel and observe what others are going through.
Empathy is reciprocated with appreciation
Yes, but don’t let it take you overboard. Often, you might not be appreciated for being an empath. At that point, just recall that empathy, in the first place, was for them not more than it was for you. Learn to appreciate your strengths so you don’t have room for validation from others. Empathy is your strength.
Don’t be an emotional sponge
Where empathy is a strength, too much of it can become a weakness too. Just like too much of anything leads to disaster, too much empathy leads you to be an emotional sponge.
What is an emotional sponge? It’s someone who:
- Notices bad vibes easily
- Takes on the emotions of others
- Is constantly overwhelmed because of this
- People start seeing them as their free therapist
- Any tragic news can turn them off for weeks
- Feel an obligation to resolve other’s matters
- Cry sympathetically
- Are normally always drained because of so much emotional burden
- Attract people in pain
- Strangers find it easy to trust them
Do you see the point? Where you do want to be there for others, you don’t want to be a sponge that attracts everyone’s emotions. You need to have space for positivity in your life too.
No one is perfect
No one is perfect, not even you. But you can learn to try to strike a balance between empathy for you and for others.
Take out time to recharge yourself
It’s very important to fill up your emotional gas tank. Yes, because it’s crucial when you are constantly draining it because of others. Have some me-time where you do stuff specifically for yourself. Find hobbies and leisure activities that bring you peace. Don’t fall into the habit of being there for everyone but yourself.
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