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7 Ways To Develop Empathy

7 Ways To Develop Empathy
7 Ways To Develop Empathy

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the 7 ways to develop empathy.

First a quick update:

“Smashing Your Limits & Succeeding With New Year’s Resolutions”
Less than twenty percent of the people that make resolutions are successful in attaining success in even one of their resolutions! Why? Discover the key to succeed with New Year’s Resolutions 

“How To Handle Someone With Emotional Baggage”
When you have emotional baggage, you can’t express love or receive love freely. Most times, if you don’t destroy the relationship by infecting it with the past, you will definitely sabotage it! Watch the video.

Now, let’s talk about the 7 ways to develop empathy.

“Empathy plays a key role in improving our social connections, which is a major factor in our overall happiness.”
– Jessica Alexander, “The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids,” (TarcherPerigee Paperback) co-authored by Iben Sandahl.

What is empathy?

Empathy is defined as understanding and sharing the feelings of another person. “You never really understand another person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus in “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

There are 2 kinds of empathy:

  1. Cognitive Empathy – Cognitive Perception – the ability to imagine someone’s thoughts and feelings
  2. Affective Empathy – Emotional Responsiveness – the drive to respond with an appropriate emotion

Strong, meaningful and fulfilling relationships cannot be developed and nurtured without empathy. A lack of empathy is a sign of narcissism or sociopathy.

5 Key Benefits of Demonstrating Empathy

  1. You will build strong relationships because you will treat people the way they want you to treat them
  2. You will reduce conflict & negativity
  3. You will understand the needs of others, including your clients and customers
  4. You will succeed at motivating and inspiring people
  5. You will understand the perception that you create in others via your words and actions

The capacity to empathize begins with mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons allow us to observe a person and experience what they experience. For example, you are watching a movie or a sports game and you see someone fall on their knees and you feel the same pain for a moment as if you, too, fell on your knees.

Accordingly, with the exception of neurological disorders, we all have the capacity to feel empathy due to mirror neurons and the “empathy circuit” in the brain. The demonstrating of empathy is a conscious choice. (Psychopaths are sensitive to the thought of pain for themselves but are unable to feel the pain of others; high psychopaths experience pleasure when imagining others in pain.)

Why don’t we always feel and demonstrate empathy?

1. Distraction – failing to pay attention
The first block to feeling empathy is distraction: not paying attention. When you are in the company of other people, are you fully present or is your mind and attention elsewhere? Are you texting, writing, looking away or, are you fully focused on the person right there with you? Are you looking and listening completely?

Solution: focus fully on the person in front of you; switch off all other potential distractions; listen attentively and radically (see below.)

2. Burned out
Many clients have told me that they used to be empathic and now are not. Why not? They are burned out – fatigued. This refers to giving so much of oneself and feeling so much emotion (including pain) over a long period of time that the person now feels drained, fatigued and overwhelmed and therefore shuts down as a self-protective mechanism. This is a common occurrence with therapists, counselors, caretakers and other such people in positions that create a lot of stress and require a lot of empathy and compassion.

Solution: Take time to rest and recuperate; surround yourself with a strong support system of people who can show you empathy.

3. Fear of being vulnerable/weak
There is a strong misconception that if one has and demonstrates empathy to another, then he or she will be weak and vulnerable. Some people play power games and therefore refuse to demonstrate empathy. Others believe that being a leader infers being ruthless, never showing any emotion or being vulnerable, and definitely not getting caught up in the emotion of the subordinate. Research reveals the opposite to be true: “empathic emotion as rated from the leader’s subordinates positively predicts job performance ratings from the leader’s boss” – study conducted by the Center for Creatively Leadership investigating 6,731 leaders from 38 countries.

Solution: be assertive, set boundaries and, express sincere concern for your team – your people; demonstrate that you have their best interests at heart (needs, hopes & dreams) while still fulfilling the company vision and goals. The more you care about your team and demonstrate empathy, the more they will care about producing and performing in their job/function.

4. Insecurity & positive emotional states
The feeling of being insecure can prevent someone from expressing empathy to another person. Research reveals that when we feel secure in our attachments (relationships) we are more open to expressing altruism and compassion. Further, a positive emotional state can distort your perception of other people’s emotions by minimizing their experience and emotions. See solution below.

Solution: Seek out secure relationships where you feel safe and accepted; become aware of your own emotional state before approaching a situation or relationship problem to avoid projecting your own feelings and circumstances onto others i.e. if you are feeling positive or really happy, you might tend to downplay the severity of someone else’s pain or situation. Resolve this by listening and allowing yourself to enter a neutral state and then connect with the other person’s emotional experience.

5. Lack of experiencing empathy
If you did not experience empathy in your family, it will be harder to demonstrate empathy. If you were a victim of abuse or you didn’t experience secure attachments in your first 2 years, you could be one of two extremes – highly sensitive or completely shut down and avoiding feeling anything for yourself or others. If your parents spent plenty of time with you, discussed feelings and displayed more affection, then you will be more empathetic towards others.

Solution: Surround yourself with people whom you can trust and whom will show you empathy; show empathy towards yourself – allow yourself to grieve and then let go of the past.

6. Lack of skills in empathy
We all have the neurological ability to experience empathy and we make the choice to demonstrate it or not.

Solution: Employ skills such as Radical Listening – Let the person speak, without interrupting and repeat what he/she said so it is clear you are really listening. In employer-employee disputes, conflict resolution occurs 50% faster when both sides repeat exactly what the other side just said before speaking themselves.

7.Ideologies and Authority
Becoming obedient to authority without engaging in morality and ethics can result in the suppression of empathy. Blind obedience to certain ideologies such as ISIS is a simple and clear example of the complete suppression of empathy or classic psychopathy.

Solution: Beware of blind obedience to authority; maintain integrity and morality

Although, it can be argued that empathy begins in infancy (newborns and infants react to the distress of other infants) and that experiences and programming lessen our choice to demonstrate empathy, we can re-learn how to demonstrate empathy to others and thus enrich our lives. Think now about the people in your world – those you deal with on a daily basis – and imagine what they experience from every perspective possible; ask questions, imagine their world, learn more about them.

If you need assistance to overcome the past and gain security and confidence, book a one-on-one session with me.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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