Sympathy Vs. Empathy; How Knowing The Difference Could Save Your Relationships – Part Three
Last week we looked at the many life-enhancing benefits of empathy and learnt the ‘enemies of empathy’ and how to overcome them. This week we begin examining the seven steps to fostering more empathy, including learning to better identify our own feelings and treating others as they would like to be treated.
The seven steps to foster more empathy
Learn to better identify your own feelings
One of the key elements in becoming more empathic with others is to be able to read their emotions. This is virtually impossible without first learning to effectively identify our own emotions. The good news is that with just a little practice we can all become better at reading our own emotions.
All you need do is begin to notice when you are feeling an emotion and your awareness of your emotions will increase. The next step is to understand your emotions. You can do this by first thinking about what triggered your emotions (like an event) and then asking yourself why you are feeling the emotions that you are.
For example, if I notice that I am feeling anxious the trigger might be that I am meeting new people and the reason why might be that I don’t yet know whether our meeting will go well. Of course you can always delve deeper, for instance the core reason why I am anxious as to whether the meeting will go well or not is probably exasperated by the fact that when I met new people at school it didn’t go well.
Reading literature is incredibly effective at allowing us to better understand others different perspectives and emotions. So read as much as you can and as wide a range of literature as possible to fast-track developing greater levels of empathy.
Imagine yourself in others shoes
Just as you would when reading a good book, place yourself inside the mind of your friends and imagine how they might be feeling. What are their fears? What are their motivations? What are they excited about and why? What are they sad about? Asking yourself these questions will give you a better understanding of their emotional state and enable you to be more compassionate towards them.
Treat others as they would like to be treated
The old saying goes ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’. Whilst this is a wonderful motto to live by (and very appropriate for strangers and those you don’t know well) it would be much better if the motto went ‘treat others as they would like to be treated’. See the subtle difference?
As we become better at empathizing and understanding others on an emotional level, we can begin to imagine how others would want to be treated, after all each of us is unique and reacts to different situations differently.
So the next time your friend has broken up with her boyfriend, remember how she handled this situation before and how she felt, whilst also taking into account the depth of her feelings for her recent ex. Then brainstorm ways that you could support her best with the main aim being to treat her how she would like to be treated, rather than imagining if you were in the same position how you would wish to be treated.
‘Empathy: Why It Matters and How To Get It’ by Roman Krznaric
This book describes how at our core we are all empathic by nature and examines how a more empathic society benefits the world. Interviewing groundbreaking leaders of various fields he reveals the six habits of the highly empathic.
A comprehensive how-to guide on how to increase our empathy, complete with chapters on improving family, workplace and intimate relationships.
Stay tuned – next Monday we will finish up the last three steps in cultivating more empathy, including fostering curiosity, active listening and finding common ground.
Are you very emotionally aware and able to identify your emotions? Do you read much literature and does it help you to empathize? Have you ever treated others how they would want to be treated? What was the effect? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, support and insight from our community, we’d love to hear from you.
Following using psychology to transform my life, I founded Accessible Psychology to help empower others to live the life they long for. My journey is living testimony that no matter where you are, absolutely everyone can apply psychology in order to lead more fulfilling lives.
Oh and I love Oprah, Marie Forleo, Tony Robbins and lovely people like you!