Empathy forms a significant part of my relationship counselling. It’s important for all counselling. I think we’ve all met people over the years who declare themselves as ’empathetic’ but then tend to “at least” others when they have pain or hurts in their life –
“I’m feeling depressed right now,
- “at least you’ve got a nice home…”
- “at least you make good money…”
- “at least you have a husband/wife…”
“I feel sad about what happened to this person or these people.”
- “at least you aren’t that person or those people.”
- “at least you don’t know them, so that helps, right?”
Or, “what do you have to be depressed about…?”
These things are invalidating, and while people generally don’t mean to be, when it’s your loving partner, or a close family member, it stings. Having worked extensively with depression, knowing it intimately, the worst thing that can happen is that someone invalidates another’s feelings because they struggle empathising with how that other person is feeling. Perhaps they haven’t been or seemed interested in their significant partner for some time: A lot of time and energy spent on work. A lot of hours running children around to sport or dance, to their friend’s, or doing homework with them. The vast majority of people need empathy shown to them to help them feel special, seen, cared for. People can sometimes find it hard to know what to say when someone we know is upset or hurt or worried. But you don’t have to have all the answers, just some empathy, interest, and listening skills ready: “I’m not sure how that feels. I haven’t experienced that personally, but I’m happy to listen. Would you like to talk?” Perhaps, “would you like a hug?” Or, “is there anything I can do to help or make things easier?” Be genuinely interested. Listen with compassion and curiosity to learn about someone else’s experience because that is a big start and part of growing empathy: Understanding others.
The good news about empathy is that it can be developed. It can be cultivated. It just takes us to (want to) make that happen. Empathy creates awareness, validation, connection, and much, much better relationships with the most important people in our lives.
Below I’ve added a short YouTube by Brene Brown on empathy, and empathy vs sympathy. Check it out. It’s to the point, engaging, and enlightening. I hope you enjoy it. ~Karen