Empathy is an important element within all relationships. It is to emotionally put your self in the place of another. When we demonstrate it we identify with another's feelings. The ability to empathize is directly dependent on your ability to feel your own feelings and identify them. While a lack of empathy means not understanding the feelings and emotions of a person with whom we are in a relationship. Such behaviour is responsible for relationship break ups.
To master empathy you need to have self -awareness, non judgement, listening skills and self-confidence.
I discussed self-awareness in a post earlier this year as it’s a key element within Counselling. It’s hard to sympathise with a partner’s emotion if you don’t have a sense of how you behave. This is when you’d have to look within yourself. Although you may not be able to relate to their feelings, you’d have to ask how you may feel in a similar situation. What kinds of emotions arise?
Robert Plutchik (Psychologist) identified eight basic human emotions, joy, trust, fear, surprise, anger, disgust, anticipation and sadness. From there spin many layers of human feelings. An aspect of self awareness is checking your body language. How do you react to problems, what’s your initial response, how does your partner’s tone of voice make you feel? Learning self awareness is an understanding of the above eight emotions within yourself and then envision how your partner is feeling.
If we are veering toward an empathetic nature we won’t be quick to judge. Instead we’ll try to understand where they’re coming from. If being confronted I may be inclined to respond in a defensive manner which doesn’t always help resolve a situation. I should try and study the persons intentions. E.g. If your girlfriend is nagging you because she doesn’t see you enough don’t look at it she’s trying to suffocate you. Maybe she just wants to spend more time with you. If he is critical about your weight gain maybe its not to embarrass you or be mean but because he wants to see you healthy and at your best. Taking the time to talk in a calm way can help you have empathy in the situation.
Another key component of empathy is listening. Some of us have a tendency to practice selective listening. We hear the words but don’t understand the feelings behind them. You can’t go wrong with rephrasing what you thought you heard back to your partner. For example he might say I prefer it when you roast the chicken like this. And you respond with you hate the way I cook chicken? And then he clarifies No, I just prefer it when you cook the chicken this way as I feel it’s an healthier alternative to fried chicken. How many of us really take the time to listen to what our partner is saying?
Finally whilst learning to be empathetic you have to love yourself. We’ve all heard the saying you can’t love someone else unless you learn to love yourself first. How can you respect and love another person if you don’t think highly of yourself? Empathy is about being patient, kind and ready to not always be right. Once you understand your flaws and begin to accept them your on your way to understanding others.