Several Ways to Develop Your Empathy Levels Today!
Some time back, a very close friend of mine, fell suddenly insanely ill, overnight. She ended up in ICU from her illness. It was a traumatic incident for everyone. We had to offer support because she is all alone in the world with a small network of friends. One day, some time later, at a dinner party, with a few mutual friends, somehow the topic about her illness came up.
She literally cringed and denied the severity of her illness. We looked at each other in shock. We were the ones who took care of her. We knew the pain that she had endured. She sat in front of friends who loved her so much. She refused to admit her illness before our extended mutual friends.
The discussion around the table as we dug deep into the sticky toffee pudding and ice cream, was about illness and how it can change your life overnight. In that moment I was so engrossed in my sticky toffee and the way the icy cold ice- cream blew my senses away that, I stopped dead in my tracks, at the cold silence in the room. I thought, wait what? What did I just hear? as I tried to undo the numbness in my brain from the ice cream, just to catch the last part of the conversation. As the silence echoed in the dining room, my mind was so engrossed in the sweetness of stuffing my face to hide the emotions, I felt at that moment.
I realized then and there that illness, whether mental or physical, has a certain negative connotation to it and people don’t like to discuss certain things and share, even if it means helping someone else. They would rather shut up about it and hide away for some reason.
Being a person who wears my heart on my sleeves, with ridiculous amounts of empathy, I understood her pain and I changed the topic to avoid her unease as a hostess. Today I am going to discuss illnesses. The silent killers that nobody wants to speak about. Today the emphasis is on society and their expectations.
Losing your marbles
If you lose a sense of who you are, if you become someone you are not due to illness, you are considered a wimp and weak. Society expects people to be fake and put on a strong hero persona. What nobody tells you, is that it is normal to crumble when you are facing a life altering illness. It is not normal to be strong all the time. As human beings, it is okay to fail, to stumble, to fall, and it is okay to hit rock bottom! Yes you heard that right!
A lesson to everyone reading this. It is human to hit rock bottom. To go nuts, to fall and fail is human. You are not weak. Those that tell you that, are weak themselves because they stand on their high horses and point fingers. If they were in your shoes, they would end up far worse than you!
Did you take your off your head pills?
If you are fighting a mental illness, an auto-immune illness such as fibromyalgia, cancer, bipolar, M.S etc and you fall. You hit rock bottom and you do something uncharacteristic once in a lifetime, or in the case of mental illness, you do it often, do not berate yourself. I can tell you this much, you are fighting the greatest battle. Many have little or no emotional support because illness is negative. Nobody wants to be around anyone who is negative. Negativity rubs off and that is the reality of this life. Many don’t have the stomach to give support and many run away like cowards.
To all those who have never experienced a single illness, whether mental or physical and take their health for granted, learn the lessons which I want you to understand. My job as a writer is to create an awareness. If you have sympathy but empathy does not come easy to you then follow these steps to be a better person. You can walk in someone else’s shoes even if you have never even dreamed of the pain they encountered.
Empathy is part of self-development.
7 Ways To Grow Your Empathy Levels
- Remember something. Real empathy cannot be faked. It will show in the little things you do and do not do. People who ill are normally fine tuned to the things that others don’t notice so either you grow your empathy for real or don’t attempt it at all. Stick to sympathy.
- People with empathy will go all out for you whether they agree or disagree, whether they like you or dislike you. A person with sympathy will just do what is absolutely necessary as a human being.
- Reading between the lines comes easy to those with empathy. They hear the things that people don’t say. They see the silent tears even when your lips form a smile.
- One has to be mindful around people. One has to stop and really pay attention to notice things. A simple change in a person’s voice can detect exhaustion. While doctors are conditioned to search for telltale signs, not everyone is created equally empathetic.
- Stop. Imagine yourself in that person’s shoes. Empathy requires the utmost honesty to one’s self. If you know yourself, you will be able to understand others. How would you feel in such a situation? How would you react?
- According to David F. Swink on Psychology Today, cognitive empathy can be taught. He used the example of a hostage situation and how faking empathy eventually lead to real empathy. I agree that short term empathy can be faked. I must admit however, that for some of us, it is easy to see through the act. Faking empathy for years may just eventually teach you real empathy and change your neurons. It all depends on your intentions, I suppose.
- A dear friend of mine, taught me that it is in the little things you do that proves your love for them. Doing little things with great love goes a long way. Even if you don’t love someone, you can take the time out to think of the little things that someone may appreciate. (Dedicated to Ayesha my friend, my sister. That biryani, stays in my mind for life, the sweetest way you packed it without me asking, those little gifts, the tears in your eyes, the way you hugged me and dropped everything when I needed you. Dedicated to the most thoughtful, sweetest, kindest, human being with loads of empathy!)
So the next time your friend informs you about the severe pain she is in, please don’t tell her to change her diet. Don’t ask her if she took her medication. Don’t look at your depressed friend with demeaning eyes and say in your mind: “There you go again you nutjob! You just spoiled my oh so positive happy day!” Stop and feel, not just with your heart but with your soul.
Feel their emotions
What would you want someone to tell you if you were in a similar situation? Another key issue to remember as David F. Swank has put it on psychology today website, is that this person is not you. This is a unique individual with a unique mind and body and the way they handle and view pain and trials is different from you. What you may easily endure, they may struggle to handle, whether trials or pain. When you are able to see things from the mind’s eye of another human being, that is when you will know that you have mastered the art of empathy.