Empathy is very very different than sympathy. And it all comes down to vulnerability and connection.
When you are empathetic you really open your heart. It is certainly more hard work to be empathetic than sympathetic, because you have to allow yourself to become vulnerable.
To really hear a person’s hardships and troubles requires active listening, during which you acknowledge their pain and identify that same pain within yourself.
This wonderful video from Brene Brown illustrates the difference beautifully. It demonstrates the four steps within empathy. This is what you can do to be a more empathetic person.
1. Take the perspective of your troubled friend – or at least recognise their pain as their truth.
2. Do not pass any judgement. This can be difficult for many of us.
3. Recognise the emotion that they are experiencing.
4. Ccommunicate that back to them.
The point here is not to offer a solution. Rather thank them for reaching out to you and connect with that part of yourself that recognises the emotion that they are feeling at this time.
Empathy is a choice. Yes it takes a little effort, particularly when compared with sympathy. But nonetheless, it is something that we should all strive to be for the people who mean the most to us.
Being empathetic will strengthen your bond with the important people in your life. You will provide a valuable support to your spouse, children, family, friends and colleagues. You will in turn increase your own feeling of self worth. The ripple effect of this will spread to the wider community. Making people feel better will make an intangible difference that you cannot see immediately.
Scientists have attempted to study empathy. Max Planck confirmed the widely held belief that human beings do have a tendency to be egocentric. However, there is an alarm system that recognises a lack of empathy and buzzes to life to autocorrect when necessary.
This specific part of your brain is called the right supramarginal gyrus. When this brain region doesn’t function properly, or when we need to make quick decisions, one’s ability for empathy is dramatically reduced.
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