I used to think empathy was a weakness.
And that empathy meant agreeing.
Empathy meant sympathy.
To be honest, I wasn’t a very empathetic person either.
It wasn’t until I saw my husband have a panic attack right in front of me and held on to him to get him to focus on my breathing and myself struggle through postpartum did I start to learn about empathy and what it meant for me as a person, wife, mother, friend and more.
For me, empathy is not saying I know how you feel. Empathy is saying I want to know how you feel. This doesn’t mean you agree with what they are feeling and saying, but it’s asking and learning from a different viewpoint or experience. It’s getting into someone’s world, at their level and sitting with them, listening with the goal to understand where they are coming from and why they are feeling the way they do. This can be hard as it can sometimes bring up past experiences, fears, and pains and walk through it with them.
For me, empathy isn’t a weakness.
Empathy is courage.
Empathy fuels connection.
Empathy welcomes perspectives.
Empathy is understanding.
Empathy creates solutions.
Empathy builds trust.
Empathy is one of our greatest strengths as individuals, communities, an industry and society.
Empathy isn’t all or nothing. Being empathetic comes in many different forms, shapes and sizes. There are many different things we can do to improve our empathy but it all starts with a genuine curiosity about other people. Some of the things I started to do to be more empathetic when someone was going through a hard time was give them my full attention, sit beside them, listen to what they are saying, reaffirm, and understand. Saying things like:
“That sounds heavy.”
“That must have been hard.”
“Tell me more.”
“It sounds like you’re saying…”
These short, impactful phrases can help someone who is going through a hard time and can be a light in their darkness. You are helping them grow through what they are going through.
How do you define empathy?