Empathy is the ability to put one’s self in another person’s shoes, feeling what they’re feeling in a given scenario. Empathy allows many of us to build deeper connections with other people because there’s an understanding and emotional aptness. Not only is empathy a good quality to exhibit when trying to grasp someone else’s life, but it also helps strengthen the bond of any interpersonal relationship. Everyone can benefit from learning how to be more empathetic.
Most people have their biases or prejudices based on how or where they grow up. For example, if you only lived your life on a farm, you’d likely have difficulties empathizing with the qualms of city life. A sense of curiosity must be established before cultivating empathy. You have to want to understand people and their emotions when being more empathetic. In essence, a person must expose themselves to new ideas and be tolerant of new perspectives when trying to gain a deeper understanding. Individuals who have health care jobs like psychologists and nurses typically have a high level of empathy because peoples’ lives are in their hands. Thus, they must try to understand people without casting judgment.
Therefore, it’s also best for you to remain objective when being empathetic. Even if you can relate to someone else’s emotion, it’s still important not to classify people’s feelings into a box as there might be other factors at play. When we lump everything into the same box, we tend to miss out on the minute details that make something different. Everyone’s feelings should be regarded and individual and personal to them.
Empathizing is about understanding. It isn’t about diagnosing a person or placing them under a label as this can actually minimize or disproportionately represent what someone truly feels. Although empathy isn’t particularly inherited, it does have genetic correlates and can be cultivated in one’s life.
5 ways to be more empathetic
Some people aren’t sure of how to be more empathetic or where to begin. As stated, curiosity is rudimentary. As long as you have curiosity and an open mind, then you can learn how to be more empathetic. Here are some ways and techniques to learn how to be more empathetic:
1. Mindfulness meditation
Meditation has a host of benefits. However, one of the most prominent advantages is that meditation teaches you how to be more empathetic and tuned-in to others. Many times, people are so busy and caught up with the events of their own lives that they aren’t mindful of what’s going on with others. The average person has about 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day. Some of those thoughts are reoccurring such as stressors like have a bill to pay. When we stress about something, we focus more of our attention to that specific thing than usual. This takes away from our ability to be present for ourselves and others around us. Thus, we end up missing a lot of clues and signals that we wouldn’t have otherwise if our attention wasn’t compromised.
To be mindful is to be present and withhold awareness in that given moment. It’s hard for some people to do this as they are constantly thinking about past things they should have done differently or fantasizing over the future things they would like to do. To learn how to be more empathetic, you should strive to maintain mindfulness. This can be achieved through the utilization of mindfulness meditation. You will want to find a comfortable place to sit and close your eyes. Focusing on your breath, consciously make sure you are breathing deeply and slowly.
Now, thoughts will arise in your mind, but it’s paramount not to judge these thoughts. Observe them objectively and let them go. Thoughts are just as temporary as feelings. So, it’s vital to treat those thoughts like tourists that come and go. After acknowledging the thoughts, refocus your attention back towards your breathing. This exercise will help you to control your mind more and be in the moment. By being present and aware, you can pick up on much more body language, facial expressions, intonations, etc. This will help you to be more empathetic because you will be able to better decipher how people are feeling.
2. Loving-kindness meditation
Loving-kindness is a profound recognition that our lives have something to do with one another, that everyone counts, everyone matters.Sharon Salzberg
Loving thy neighbor helps build empathy for others and a peace of mind for Self. Loving-kindness meditation is a great facilitator of compassion, equilibrium, equanimity, sympathetic joy, and much more.
It’s a simple practice that encourages you to bring to mind a person that’s either someone you love, someone you dislike, or that’s neutral. Then, when you bring this person to mind, you practice sending them well wishes.
There isn’t anything mystical or magic about this. All we’re trying to do is cultivate feelings of kindness and compassion. These feelings can also unlock feelings of empathy when loving-kindness if practiced enough. Especially when you practice it on someone who you may dislike or has been abrasive with you lately.
Simple loving-kindness meditation practice
The following is a simple but sweet love-kindness meditative exercise one can do to build more empathy:
Delegate some quiet time for yourself where you won’t be interrupted. Relax your muscles and close your eyes. Begin to take some deep breaths.
Visualize yourself experiencing immense love for yourself and the world around you. Visualize that the world is filled with love and understanding just as it is now. Know that there is nothing left to change or improve as the world is already a peace filled place. Focus on the feeling of inner peace and contentment. Imagine breathing out negative emotions and breathing in feelings of love.
Repeat the following affirmations:
- May I be peaceful and happy.
- May the world be peaceful and happy.
- May I be safe.
- May those around me be safe.
Bask in the warmth and continue welcoming in feelings of compassion as well as gratitude.
Feel free to shift the focus to specific people in your life and repeat those loving affirmations with them in mind.
After sending these heart-felt intentions outward to those you love, feel free to end the meditation session here. Practicing loving-kindness regularly can help you build empathy when you’re struggling to figure out how to be more empathetic.
A common struggle in many interpersonal relationships is the ability to have an equal give and take when it comes to communication. Listening is very important in matters of empathy. How can you know what a person feels if you don’t allow them to express their sentiments? A lack of listening isn’t always due to bad intentions. It may simply be that you just really want to help that person to heal or resolve whatever problem they are experiencing. Thus, you might be more inclined to offer your advice or instruction opposed to just lending an ear.
It’s okay to want to help, but it’s also important that you make sure you are getting all the information before giving any recommendations. Through listening thoroughly, new concepts or a new perspective may be revealed to you. By listening effectively, you can provide more effective advice and support to that person. While the other individual is speaking, make sure you aren’t thinking about what you will say next. Instead, consider what they are telling you and ponder over it. You may even ask further questions to gain more clarity and better gauge their point of view.
Remember that often times when someone is expressing themselves to you or being vulnerable, they’re not seeking your opinion or approval. They just want to be heard. More often than not, they just need someone to be empathetic to them and their situation. Resist the temptation to give feedback or your opinion. Just hear them out and let them know you understand.
4. Try someone else’s life
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment. Cultivating empathy can be an adventure filled with new perspectives and polarizing experiences. Our planet is comprised of billions of people, all unique in their own way with differing values and lifestyles. Expose yourself to different cultures, lifestyles, or even philosophy. People who lack much empathy are many of those who have not gotten out into the world or explored the diversity that makes up the larger society. Thus, they believe that the whole world is just like the four walls they’ve been in their entire life. This lack of exploration can significantly skew one’s perspective, making a person predisposed to biases, prejudices, or any other preconceived notions that aren’t true.
You can get a glimpse into another person’s life by traveling to different countries, participating in other traditions, and even trying new cuisine. Or, you can challenge yourself to live a day in that person’s life. This proves to be very beneficial with married couples as well as sometimes either partner may feel underappreciated for their contribution. For instance, if you stay at home and take care of your children while your spouse goes out to work everyday, you can try switching roles for a day. Sometimes we under appreciate someone’s contribution because we are ignorant in regards to the actual effort it takes. This is a good way to be more empathetic in your relationships.
Also, work to get out of your echo chambers. In this day and age, in particular on social media, it’s easy to fall into a trap to only hear the side you agree with. Either get off of social media or work to follow and engage with people with a different opinion than you. Hear them out. Truly try to understand their pain and grievances. Don’t be too quick to judge.
5. Suspend your judgments
Speaking of being too quick to judge, just as with your thoughts and becoming mindful, you want to suspend your judgments. You can not fully empathize with someone when you are judgmental. Remain as objective as you can when listening to another person tell you their beliefs or perspectives. In fact, some people are reluctant to speak about their emotions because they’re afraid it’ll be met with judgment.
When we criticize people, we put boundaries up that separate us from them. After that wall is built, there are limitations when it comes to empathy. Thus, you can only understand a portion of that person. So, it becomes imperative that you don’t use your personal belief system to determine how exactly a person feels. This can then turn into a projection or transference where we project our feelings onto others or we assume that they feel the same way that we do.
Start being more empathetic
The world can benefit from having empathy. Many arguments and quarrels begin as a result of diminished empathy. A lot of fires can be extinguished simply with having a common understanding or consideration of someone else’s life. Without empathy, compassion and tolerance would be null. Thus, by learning how to be more empathetic, you can contribute to a much more peaceful world where we can all successfully coexist and help each other.
How to you live with more empathy? What are the things you do and practice to help you live a life with more empathy? Share with us in the comments below.