There is a lot more to having empathy than just putting oneself in someone else’s shoes. You are validating their feelings, too. You are willing to see past their faults, blessings, and problems. You’re seeing them for who they are.
It’s not their vulnerabilities that has gotten your interest, and there is only so much that you can do for them. At times, you may even feel powerless, as you watch them pick themselves up from a distance. After all, life is not without its hardships.
Empathy is more or less like a special, unspoken bond you could have with someone else. It is the basis of compassion; to relate to someone in all their wonder. At that moment, you are being present with them, without the concern for self-interest; and without condition. That sends the right message: “I’ve got you.”
It really brings out the “human” inside of us. And that compassion is not a weakness. It is an empowerment. This is known as compassionate empathy, the capability of understanding or relating to another’s pain, and acting voluntarily to help.
The thing about compassion and empathy is that we’d always have others’ best interests in mind. And with that intention set in stone, we act on and come up with ideals.
It becomes easier for us to see through their situation, as we see things from an “outside point of view”. That is a reason why we could approach their problems more logically than they could. We are all justifiably not as emotionally invested in other people’s problems as we are with our own.
However, that does not necessarily mean we are without hearts. It’s just hard to comprehend the issue at large especially if we are hearing from only one side of the story. We could never know the full extent of their truths, and what facts might have been exaggerated from their faulty reasonings.
And yet, we stick by their side. In spite of the difficulties we know full well that actions bring more of an impact than words. That is not to say we’ll face their problems for them.
We do what we could within our means, and provide them with what guidances we could give. Nevertheless, they are going to have to do the hard parts themselves.
Although, one may argue that we might truly have no idea what else we could do. After all, a major aspect of compassionate empathy is in bringing about an effective change to another person’s circumstances.
I’d like to think the purest way of supporting someone is in simply being there for them. Give them the compassion and counsel whenever they request for it. Your presence will help them in ways you’ll never really know.
And yes, it is entirely possible to get emotionally invested in someone else’s problems, too. This is emotional empathy. There are times we could feel so strongly for someone that we find ourselves being ‘absorbed’ into their reality.
Perhaps we might see a bit of ourselves in a person, or maybe we’re just seeing too much of ourselves. Whichever it is, in emotional empathy, we often forget to ground ourselves as a separate entity from someone else’s life.
This is where boundaries come in. We need to put ourselves at a safe distance from problems that aren’t ours to worry about. You need to put yourself in a place where you could come to your own rationale, and also have good faith that others will come to their own best judgements.
Otherwise, it just becomes all the more chaotic. It is (very) likely that you and that person may only fuel each other’s negative thoughts, as you spiral further down into an emotional void; unable to bear any meaningful feelings.
But it can be a good thing, too. Especially with a proper grip over our own emotions, we learn how to properly respond to someone else’s pain.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to self-control. To ignore our emotions only to prevent an empathetic overload is a problem on its own.
The last thing you’d want for yourself would be to uphold apathy; showing little to no interest or concern over others, including to those closest to us.
Your best approach is to remain detached, while also not withholding your affection for a person. You could always relate to someone and offer the help they need, without putting yourself in their stories.
Cognitive empathy is a rather unique way to relate to someone. With a proper understanding of their situation, we become better at finding the the right words to say, and the best solutions to solve the problem.
Cognitive empathy is essentially when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things the way they do, but also by not taking in their emotions.
We’re basically trying to get a clearer understanding of their issues, but not to feel their hardships. We try to find the silver linings that they may have overlooked.
We just want to understand where their disappointments came from. This gives us a “big picture” perspective of the situation. Wherever we find their weaknesses, we could also identify their strengths and what opportunities their setbacks might have to offer.
Perhaps we might even offer an alternative solution, as well. We are in the best position to offer this counsel, as they may have exhausted a lot of their mental energy in their worries.
Become the ‘Devil’s advocate’; so that means you could evaluate decisions carefully for them, and challenge their beliefs, while also having a clear understanding that the final call is ultimately theirs to make. It is best to remain unbiased, standing from a neutral standpoint. So tell things as they are, not as to what they seem.
Similarly, in what ever decision they make, it is best to not take the matter personally. All you are left to do is to respect their verdict, and have fulfilment in knowing that you’ve done your part in helping them.
A big part of cognitive empathy is in having faith in your own critical thinking skills as well as theirs. Emotions are acknowledged, but our approach to empathising is more focused on seeing things for what the situation really is, rather than what things may look like and what perceptions may have arisen from it.
Empathy and relationships
There is another component of empathy, and that is our part in opening up to others. Empathy does not work as a one-way communication. We need to be readily available, approachable, and present for others, too.
You don’t have to share the same opinions with someone to understand what they are going through. Life has a funny way of making everyone live in slightly different shades, albeit co-inhabiting the same reality.
All we could really do is validate their emotions. However, don’t encourage them to act on it. Tell them to not feel bad about feeling bad, and how they feel is understandable. They are momentarily overwhelmed and distressed; allow them to let their emotions flow.
For the sake of lowering their escalating tensions, advise them to sleep on it; to not overthink things nor to dwell on the problem any longer than they have to. Ensure them that what ever it is that is troubling them in the present will eventually come to pass. And that you’d be with them at every step of the way.
Validating others’ emotions is a fundamental part in all our connections with people. In fact, we (unfortunately) tend to dismiss other people’s emotions more often than we think. And we do it for all sorts of reasons, too.
There is something horridly toxic about the phrases “Man up” and “Stop crying”. This is commonly seen in the cases of toxic masculinity, whereby older men, typically fathers, enforce younger boys to behave and think in a certain way. Basically they are taught that all emotions are invalid to them, except for anger.
This is the root of most domestic violences. Pent up frustrations don’t stay bottled up forever, and since anger is the supposed acceptable response, it becomes their only resort.
Ironically, while most boys subjected to toxic masculinity accept anger as their mentality, they were never taught how to properly process and express the emotion in a healthy manner. Hence, they direct their frustrations to those they deem more vulnerable than they are.
And men, the next time before you dismiss a woman’s feelings as “another womanly emotion”, do know that she experiences emotions a lot more intensely, including the happiness she would have without you.
What being an empath teaches us
Empaths have a gift for holding others in a warm emotional embrace. That’s what makes them so reliable to turn to. You could say they are caring to a fault.
Empaths open a whole new world for themselves and for those around them. They get a better understanding of other people and the lives they live, and more importantly, they feel for those people, too.
Plus, empaths make for good life partners. In life long commitments, you’re not after having fun anymore. What you’re really after is for someone who could make you feel emotionally safe and secure; someone who’d validate your emotions and value your opinions.
Empaths are compassionate for others. However, they aren’t always that way for themselves. In many cases, they end up becoming people pleasers. That’s the thing about finding problems; all you will find are more problems.
You don’t become a better person by putting others first only to neglect yourself. You’re going to want to treat ‘you’ as you would with others. We can’t always be above others’ issues. But we can try to prevent further harm from happening to anyone, including ourselves.
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