This past month, the topic empathy has come up quite a bit. I've had conversations with friends about how they either feel that they aren't being empathetic enough, or they feel that they aren't receiving empathy. As someone that works with clients one-on-one, empathy is a huge part of my practice. It's not always easy and I am nowhere near perfect, but I thought it would be a great blog as we all can relate to this topic in some way or another.
Empathy by definition is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another's position. Some people have a harder time feeling empathy. This is something that is out of my scope of practice, but if you're interested in learning more I highly suggest checking out Brené Brown; she has some great podcasts around the topic of empathy.
Empathy is something I've become more aware of since my car accident 6 years ago. (You can check out my About Me page for the full story) It was an intense life experience and there have been countless times where I've felt misunderstood or that people in my life haven't shown empathy in the way I was hoping for. Want to know a secret? I've done the same thing! I've had friends who are experiencing something difficult, something I've never experienced, and I've kicked myself in the butt for not showing empathy in the way I'd hoped. Does that mean that we are bad people? Hell no. Being empathetic when loved ones are going through a difficult time, especially when we cannot relate or haven't experienced it, can be really freaking hard.
How do we connect? What can we say to help ease the situation? Below are my top 3 tips on how to practice more empathy:
1. Open up a safe space
The next time you're talking to a loved one that is having a hard time, open up a safe space for them to be how they need to in that moment. If they start the conversation, just quietly listen to what they're saying. If you're able, try to put yourself in their shoes mentally. Try and understand where they are coming from and the feelings they are experiencing. Simply just listen. Remind them that they are in safe place to say what they feel with no judgement.
2. Ask before you give advice
You will find yourself in moments where people are seeking advice, but in my opinion, it's always smart to ask before giving it. I've been in the situation where I've offered a friend unsolicited advice and she told me she knew the solutions and that she needed to hash it out with someone. This is totally valid and I've been on the other end of this situation as well. Now, if someone is venting or talking to me about a hardship, if I have advice to give, I ask before offering it. Simply just saying, "can I offer some advice" or "do you want another persons point of view" are easy ways to ask. Some people may say yes and some may say no. Either response is valid and it's important to respect their decision.
3. If you don't know what to say, tell them
If you don't know how to respond to someone, it's common to get flustered. Some common responses are: not saying anything at all, offering unsolicited advice or even shutting down. When you don't know what to say, I find the easiest thing to do is just to be honest. Next time you don't know how to respond, try: "I'm so sorry to hear that, I wish I knew what to say to make you feel better". In my opinion that's a great response. You can even ask "is there anything I can do to help"? Both of these responses show that you have good intentions and you want to help. More often then not, the person will respect and appreciate your honesty.
These tips are things I've uncovered since working with clients and also just reflecting on past experiences with my family and friends. At the end of the day, people just really want to be heard. Be loving and open up a safe space so they don't feel alone. Remember nobody is perfect, but if you go in with good intentions, that will shine through.
Just a girl writing down her thoughts on life post-trauma, body acceptance and wellness.