How can we be more empathetic?

As someone who is continuously looking to grow and develop my own personality, I have acutely felt the need to be a much more empathetic person. But what does empathy mean?

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and feel what they feel. Empathy is extremely crucial to form long lasting and deep human connections. And this is not just at your home but also at work and in the society we live in. Unfortunately, empathy has just not been taught to any of us – anywhere. On the contrary, our ego-centric society has told us that we should not pity people who feel weak. In fact any form of weakness is a bad thing. This expectation – both at home and at work has resulted in many people bottling themselves up. And this is the beginning of mental and physical diseases. So how can one go about being more empathetic?

  1. Observe that the other person needs empathy. An easiest way to recognize this is when the other person is highly emotional and irrational. Of course some people are always like this and they perhaps need serious medical help. But for now, let us consider those people who are usually centered and calm but are prone to emotional outbursts. This could be in the form of anger or sadness or whatever the emotion is. Just identify that the person is in the “Child mode”.
  2. Listen – Don’t advice. When we recognize the weakness in others, the first reaction of many of us is to advice. Please don’t do this. When they need your advice, they will ask for it. Never give unsolicited advice. Keep your opinions on how to handle things to yourself. What they need at this moment is “non-judgemental presence“. What does this mean? Just be with them and feel their pain. We need not judge whether what they are feeling at this moment is right or wrong. And don’t refute their emotions. No. Just feel their pain. And how can you feel the pain of others? It’s only when we are aware and accept our own pain can we understand that others can undergo pain too. It might be for the silliest reason, still, just understand that you too are prone to such emotions. So listen. Don’t add your stories to it. Don’t say things like, “Oh this is nothing compared to what I underwent two years ago” or “Yeah I understand it for my friend went through the same thing”. No. Just be with their pain and allow them to express. If they are silent, just be silent. Listen deeply. And just be. If you can hold their hand or put an arm around them – do so. Show that you are with them and understand them.
  3. Notice the energy change after they have vented their emotions. Often, most people come up with their own solutions. At this time, you can slowly make your point and say, “You know why don’t you try this, it may help”. And leave it there. Don’t make detailed plans on their behalf. Nothing of that sort. Always remember, nobody wants to be advised. People want to be understood. This is a fundamental human trait.
The sun sets over the riparian forests of the Sabarmati. April 2020.

It’s only when we are aware and accept our own pain can we understand that others can undergo pain too.

Practicing these three things can go a long way in improving our empathy towards others. But as always, in order to give empathy, we must have empathy towards ourselves. Most people are very harsh on themselves. Perfectionists have this problem. They hold themselves and others to such such levels of expectations that it is often very difficult to meet. And such people cannot tolerate any weakness, as this is seen as barriers on the path to external success. Therefore when failure comes, these people either blame others or blame themselves or just forget about it and move on. In all these cases, they haven’t faced themselves and felt the disappointment or sorrow or sadness fully. When we don’t ‘feel’ our feelings, we rationalize them. And the minute we rationalize our feelings (“Oh I felt bad BUT it doesn’t matter life is always like this”) we run away from what makes us human – feelings.

Feelings feel bad, but embrace them. It’s perfectly okay to feel them. Every human on the planet does. When we can attune ourselves to our feelings, our EQ increases. When our EQ increases our interpersonal relationships improve drastically. This makes us good human beings – empathetic, kind and considerate. Attributes that we wish to see in our loved ones and in ourselves.

So let’s try to be empathetic to each other?

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