Empathy: An Essential Psychological Skill
It is important to develop empathy to maintain good relationships with your family, friends, colleagues and other people. Empathy is the skill of putting yourself in another person’s shoe and understanding his or her situation, thoughts, emotions, opinions and choices from his or her perspective. An empathetic person is a good listener and comforts and encourages others during tough situations.
You see things differently from where you stand. Based on your own situation, you might not understand why other people feel and do because you look at other people’s actions from your own perspective. Empathy involves looking at things from the other person’s viewpoint.
How would you show empathy in the following situations?
A young girl 14-year-old girl attempts suicide but is unsuccessful. She comes from a wealthy family and seems to have it all. She is a good student at school. Her parents love and care for her. It seems everything is going on well with her life. Would you condemn her for attempting to commit suicide?
A highly educated man with a senior position at an outstanding company has a seemingly happy life with his wife. He is a high achiever at work and is often commended with his good work and experience. One morning while he is at work he falls asleep during an important meeting in which he has a presentation to deliver. Say you are his boss, would you criticize him for doing so?
Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes
It’s sad that most people who lack empathy will criticize the above two people harshly. And if their actions reach the media people who don’t know them existence will judge them negatively. The skill of empathy is non-existent in such people. It is easy to assume others should make decisions based on your own personal standpoint.
However, everyone has their own set of circumstances which make them behave in a given way. Understanding this fact can help you realise how the girl mentioned above reasoned herself into choosing to end her life. Perhaps there are issues in her life that she is dealing with which you don’t know about. Maybe she is a victim of rape and living with the shame often directed at victims of rape was unbearable to her. Or maybe her seemingly happy family is not as happy as it seems.
What about the man who fell asleep during an important presentation? Maybe his wife has filed for a divorce and it’s stressing him. Or maybe he is having a burnout at work because of high workload. Instead of humiliating him for nodding off, an empathic supervisor will try to find out where the problem was.
That’s where empathy comes in. Know that people have struggles and experiences which motivate them to behave in a certain way. The meaning of empathy is the ability to understand another person from their perspective and not from your perspective.
It is a hard thing to develop empathy when you insist on judging people according to your own viewpoint. For example, you might consider the abovementioned employee to be rude without understanding the circumstances leading to his unprofessional behaviour. Or without knowing about her misery, you might think the girl made was a coward for choosing to end her life. However, maybe she in her current situation she has arrived at that decision after reasonable logic.
On the other hand, being empathetic, you will not be quick to criticize. You can understand how the other person feels in his situation. You’ll understand why the girl is miserable and why she considers her life unbearable. With empathy, you will find out the man’s side of the story instead of humiliating him.
You might not have the same experience as the other person, but you have the ability to see things as they do. In short, you see others as people who are capable of making their own choice even when their choice seems irrational to you. You don’t hold stereotypes of race, ethnicity, gender and other dividing factors. Rather, you are aware of how similar you are to other human beings because of shared experiences.
Impact of Empathy
Empathy makes you compassionate and kind when dealing with other people. You are aware of other people’s suffering through your observation or the memory of how it felt to be in a similar situation. Therefore, it is necessary to develop empathy if you want to understand other people’s behaviour and relate well with others.
Rather, you understand other people’s suffering through your observation or the memory of how it felt to be in a similar situation. Therefore, it is necessary to develop empathy to understand other people’s behaviour and relate well with others. Furthermore, you will encourage, soothe and facilitate the emotional healing of the person at the receiving end of your empathy.
Life is for living. Keep living. Don’t give up.