Mastering Empathy: Strengthen Connections and Relationships

We hear a lot about empathy these days. Surprisingly, the word ‘empathy’ wasn’t introduced until 1909 into the English language. Many people confuse it with sympathy, however there is a big difference.

Sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone. For instance, maybe you show sympathy by sending a card because your friend’s grandmother died. Empathy, however, is when you slow down long enough to form a connection to try to get into the other person’s head and heart to attempt to understand and feel what they are feeling.

Here are the three types of empathy:

Cognitive Empathy: You show cognitive empathy when you take time to understand what the other person is going through mentally and emotionally.

Emotional Empathy: You show emotional empathy when you not only try to understand what other person is experiencing; but you also feel some of the same emotions that the other person is feeling. For instance, if someone is sad about a situation, you feel sad, also.

Compassionate Empathy: You show compassionate empathy when you actively try to support the other person. You not only understand what the other person is going through and you feel some of the same emotions, but you also make the decision to show compassion by doing something to support the other person as a result. For instance, you take the person a meal or offer to pray with them.

To successful show empathy, you must slow down and listen. Although you may be well meaning, there are three things to keep in mind to avoid while showing empathy with someone:

  1. Avoid comparing their situation to something that you have experienced. Remember, their situation is not about you. Keep the focus on them.
  2. Avoid trying to minimize their situation or turn it into a positive. When you do this, you may be guilty of toxic positivity. See related video: https://youtu.be/KpM5YLj07vE
  3. Never try to immediately solve the problem or offer solutions. There may be an opportunity to do this down the road; however, for now, simply be there for them where they are at. The goal of empathy is to show the other person that they are not having to go through their situation all alone.

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