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Sympathy Vs. Empathy; How Knowing The Difference Could Save Your Relationships – Part Two

Last week we explored the differences between sympathy and empathy and the different types of empathy. This week we examine the many life-enhancing benefits of empathy and look at the ‘enemies of empathy’ and how to overcome them.


The benefits of empathy


Strengthen bonds and relationships


When others sense we share their emotions and relate to them we instantly create a deep rooted bond. Naturally our relationships become stronger and closer as a result, meaning we can both give and receive support during life’s toughest times.


Fosters good emotional health and well-being


When we are empathic we experience feelings of connection, kindness, inclusion and community – all instrumental in promoting good emotional health and well-being.


Heals painful psychological problems


We can help to heal others loneliness, alienation, anxiety, fear, depression and shame all from emotional and compassionate empathizing.


Can be a source of self-esteem and gives us a sense of identity


Healthy self-esteem should only be related to our characters because – unlike other things such as success or money – we have complete control over how we choose to behave. When we are empathic and connect with others emotionally, we automatically feel good about ourselves and it can be a huge source of healthy self-esteem.


Furthermore, if we are empathic over a prolonged period of time, we can identify ourselves as being empathic by nature, enabling us to have a more positive identity.


Gives us a wider sense of purpose


When we continually choose to be empathic, it can translate into a wider sense of purpose, such as being kind or compassionate to others in life. This gives added meaning to our lives and often causes our overall happiness to soar.



The enemies of empathy


Being Distracted


One of the most important elements of empathy is paying attention. Attention to body language, attention to tone of voice, attention to what is and isn’t being said. Limit all distractions and remain present when someone is sharing vulnerably with you. The enemy of empathy is distraction.


Judging and criticizing


Though true friends do share their honest opinions it is advisable not to do this when someone is going through pain. When someone is in pain they need empathy and to be understood on an emotional level.


When we are judging and criticizing it leaves no room for empathy, even if it is coming from a place where you are genuinely trying to help (such as the school of home truths for example). To judge and criticize less make a conscious effort to understand others emotions so you can better empathize with their struggle (emotional empathy).


Offering advice


When one of my friends is emotionally hurting one of the most natural things for me to do is to try to make it better by offering advice. I find it incredibly hard not to try and help in this way, but every time I offer advice without having been asked, I potentially distance myself from my friends because what they were really seeking was someone to listen and offer emotional understanding and support. Needless to say I have now resolved to stop offering advice unless I am asked.


Further Resources


‘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.


‘The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide To Life’s Most Essential Skill’ by Karla McLaren


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 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.


In the moments when you have connected with others emphatically did you reap any of the benefits explained in this article? Do you struggle with the enemies to empathy? Do you have any of your own tips to overcome the enemies of empathy? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.

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