Perhaps it was after a divorce or after a life-altering diagnosis, but empathy can kick up in people who invest any amount of time into relationships. Generally, we think of empathy as the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Researchers have identified a few different forms of empathy called cognitive and emotional empathy. Both are important to help form and maintain connections.
Why Empathy Matters
Empathy is one way people connect, heal, and support others in healing. When you show empathy, their defense energy goes down and positive energy replaces it. That’s when more creative solutions turn up. As people live their lives at work and home, we are always looking to balance dynamics. When we lack empathy, we are unable to nurture interpersonal connections. Society relies on empathy to facilitate connections and forward movement. When empathy is missing, we become more disconnected. The two types of empathy include:
- Cognitive empath: taking another’s perspective, imagining what it is like in another’s shoes, and understanding someone’s feelings
- Emotional empathy: sharing emotional experiences, feeling distress to someone’s pain
Practicing both cognitive and emotional empathy is challenging. Both can be learned with intentional and consistent practice. The unique challenge with emotional empathy is in practicing and we are likely going to be vulnerable and in touch with emotional responses. The ability to regulate our emotional distress is key and is something that is hard for people to do unless we find balance. Cognitive and emotional empathy are wonderful partners and can be a great practice in balance. When people feel seen, heard, and understood, we do great things together.
The best way to move forward from these challenges includes:
- Put aside viewpoints: slowing ourselves down a bit to put aside things to help focus on the person and help us tune in to what is happening
- Use imagination: try to imagine what it is like and use images they are sharing, emotions, and circumstances just to see what it feels like
- Actively listen for key pieces of information they can help us understand and the message they convey. Give yourself permission to turn down the volume on your voice and turn up the volume on the other person’s voice
- Be curious: it can be helpful to come from a place of curiosity as you let them know they are actively listening and that you want to understand
Finally, don’t worry about fixing things. There is nothing you can do about some of life’s situations and people. Only so much you can do to help someone but it is also good and healthy to maintain boundaries. This helps keep people from taking advantage of you and lets you find a better way of connecting. Empathy is a beautiful gift to have but without healthy boundaries can lead to more challenges down the road. To be healthy is to notice when boundaries are necessary and when to extend more empathy to a person in need.
The Last Resort teaches healthy boundaries. We support your goal of making sure you are moving forward in recovery with the right tools and resources. However you find your way to the Last Resort, we endeavor to provide a haven where you can journey through recovery feeling like your life and story have meaning and a purpose. Call us to find out more: 512-750-6750.