If you turn on the news or spend five minutes on Facebook, you might notice yourself feeling a little more disconnected from the world around you, instead of more connected. There are many reasons for this, one of those seem to be an overall lack of empathy. How much kinder would the world be if we chose the vulnerability of empathy instead of quick witted (or not so) response via social media. Empathy affects our intimate relationships, friendships, acquaintances, and the way we interact with that person who cut you off in traffic this morning.
Dr. Brene Brown sites, “Rarely can a response make anything better. What makes something better is connection.” She goes on to discuss how empathy fuels connection with those around us. As opposed to judgement, or even sympathy.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is a skill requires us to get in touch with our own emotional experiences in order to sit with others that are experiencing, often a difficult one. This is often uncomfortable for us. If I am having a great day, why would I want to be brought down by the difficult emotions of others? That’s what makes empathy a bold choice.
How to use Empathy:
- Perspective Taking, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
- Staying out of judgement and listening.
- Recognizing emotion in another person that you have maybe felt before.
- Communicating that you can recognize that emotion.
Empathy vs. Sympathy
Sympathy and empathy are often confused for one another, yet the two are so much different. Empathy is a skill we develop that brings us closer to one another. Sympathy on the other hand is what creates isolation and disconnection, often unintentionally. As Brene Brown puts it, “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy fuels disconnection.”
This video is a great reference for the difference between the two:
Seems simple enough right? Maybe not… Empathy requires us to touch those places within our own stories that are not so comfortable. For me to sit with your discomfort, I have to go to that place within my own emotional experience. This is a pretty vulnerable practice. Yet, the more we do it, the more connected we feel with ourselves and those around us. It is kind of like going to the gym and working out after a long time away. It is kind of difficult and uncomfortable at first. Yet over time, we begin to enjoy it and as we build muscle mass, it becomes easier and easier.
Let’s try to bravely put empathy into practice this week and not only observe how those around us respond, but also notice the way we feel in response to this practice. I would imagine we will notice feeling more connected and known by those around us. Who doesn’t want that?