“The struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me.” – Oprah Winfrey
Empathy is described as being able to fully understand and share another person’s feelings. True empathy can allow a person to put themselves into another’s shoes and understand their emotions without having to truly share that same experience. Cognitive empathy is understanding how a person may feel a certain way without actually feeling that same emotion. They’re similar but different.
Empathy is what allows humans to understand and care for one another. Empathy is what makes us cry during a sad movie. Empathy is what connects relationships and makes a cohesive family unit. Without empathy, there’s no reason to look out for anybody but yourself, and that can only lead to one very sad and lonely path through life.
Well, I don’t want your path to be filled with pain and loneliness. Even if you are an empathetic person, we can all brush up on those empathy skills from time to time. Most humans generally mean well, but it’s easy to get distracted by our own problems and goals. Sometimes we forget that there are nearly 8 billion other people on Earth experiencing the same difficulties and hardships as ourselves.
There’s only one way to become a more empathetic person, and it requires training as any other skill in life. So, I’d like to share with you today a few simple exercises which could help you to become a more empathetic person and to enhance your perspective as a nurturing human being.
Really Learn To Listen
How often have you asked someone how they’re day has been, only to receive a a vague response of good or blah or bad? What have you done with that response? Did you slap them on the back and tell them things will get better, or just move on to another topic less uncomfortable?
Developing empathy for others means fostering deeper relationships and searching beneath the surface. So many people have become guarded about their feelings because they’ve been hurt in the past when revealing their heart and soul. People want to be heard more then anything, but people also want to know that the one who’s listening wants to hear them.
Then without advising them on how to fix their problems, or interjecting in their defense, just listen. Try to understand why they feel this way. You don’t have to agree or disagree with the way they feel even, just try to understand. Sometimes the best thing that you can offer to someone with their daily struggle is an understanding ear.
When a situation goes bad between us and someone else, we may have a difficult time trying to understand what went wrong and what the hell they were thinking (let’s be honest). Well, sometimes in situations like that, after it’s all over, it can be beneficial to try and reverse engineer the situation from their perspective. Working backwards from the final point of conflict, try to put yourself in their shoes and travel back through their emotions as they occurred in the event. What may have motivated them to act out in such a way?
Yet don’t stop there, you can travel further back into the rest of their day or the past weeks, months or years. Whatever gives you perspective. If you don’t know what’s happened during the rest of their day or week, note that. Any number of things could have altered the why behind their actions. It may not make things okay and it may not provide the answers. Yet it may give you some understanding and perhaps even a little compassion. What you learn through this empathetic experience may be able to aid your dialogue with this individual the next time that you interact with them.
Loving Kindness Meditation
This last trick is for those of you who have the patience to meditate, and even for those of you who don’t but maybe would like to try. This is a very specific type of meditation which aims to foster love in the practicing individual, not just for others but for oneself as well.
The meditation begins as you would any other kind of meditation, seated in a quiet place with few distractions and in a comfortable position that you can maintain for 10 to 15 minutes. Relax your body. Relax your mind. Relax your eyes or close them, if you wish.
When you begin to meditate, you want to quiet your mind and focus all of your attention towards feelings of love for yourself. Focus on all of your good qualities. Focus on what you love about yourself. Find those things that you are thankful for in your own being. Love yourself for who you are, just as you are. Breathe out tension and breathe in feelings of love. Find your inner peace. Wish yourself happiness. Wish yourself safety. Wish yourself health and strength. Appreciate yourself.
After a few minutes of this directed self-love. You may shift those feelings of love away from yourself and on to someone else whom you care about. A lover, a child, a family member, a friend. Appreciate all of those things about them that make them wonderful. Focus on all of those feelings of gratitude that you have for them. All of the ways they add substance to your life. Wish them happiness. Wish them safety. Wish them health and strength. Appreciate them for all that they are and let that love radiate throughout your body.
You may switch between other important people in your life, and then when you’re feeling like you’re finally swimming in love, try to shift your focus to those in your life who you show less love towards. The ones who irk you or the one’s who’ve hurt you. Focus not on their negatives, but on their qualities and what you can appreciate about them. Allow them to be part of your inner peace and your feelings of love. Allow feelings of compassion and forgiveness to flow through you. If your thoughts start to wander towards the negative bring them back to your loving-compassion, that’s what this is all about. This is all for your benefit. Wish them well. Wish them healing. Wish them growth.
Remember how you felt during this meditation and keep it in your heart. Revisit this place as often as you need. Make it a part of your life as often as you wish. Grow those feelings of love and kindness. Like a plant you need to water it and nurture it. This meditation can be your water. Maybe this can bring you some feelings of wellness, peace, love and compassion.
I had to try out this kindness meditation before I could recommend it to the rest of you, and it left me a little teary-eyed to be honest. Showing myself love felt good and needed. Showing those I care about more love felt good too and made me more emotional. When I tried to shift my attention to those I’ve had ill-feelings towards in the past, that was hard at first, but that felt good too after a bit. It’s nice to appreciate the fact that even some of the worst people in your life, have a few traits that you can find to appreciate. It doesn’t necessarily make you want to be around them again, but it humanizes them I guess. Giving forgiveness feels relieving. Nothing on the outside has changed outside of that 10 minutes that I spent trying this exercise, but I was left feeling much lighter, happier and more confident then I had felt all day. Love and empathy goes a long way, including that which we show ourselves.
I’ll be honest, sometimes I’ve allowed my empathy to slip. I’ve been selfish and self-absorbed at times and I’ve showed less consideration for others than I know I probably could have. Especially during those times of my life when I had felt wronged and violated. There were moments when I viewed my empathy as a weakness because it was taken advantage of one too many times. I wanted to stop caring about others. I wanted to care more about myself, because it didn’t feel like anyone else did. I started to lose what I loved about myself in this way and it isolated me. If you’re in a dark tunnel now – keep walking and you’ll eventually find the light. There will be good people waiting for you on the other side.
~Wishing you all the best~
Do you have your own techniques for nurturing loving kindness? Share below.