We all live unique lives. No one ever has and no one ever will live the same life I am living. No two people will go through the same situations, with the same people, in the same circumstances.
I don’t really know what it’s like to lose a parent.
Fathers don’t really know the pain mothers experienced during the birth of their children.
You don’t really know what it’s like for your kids in school these days.
Most of us don’t really know what it’s like to not be able to walk, to see, to hear.
But if we all have different experiences, how, then, can we understand what another is going through? How can we empathize if we don’t really get it- if we haven’t been through that same experience ourselves?
Empathy is a key ingredient in forming and maintaining connections with other people. Empathy brings us closer together and helps build strong, healthy relationships. The quality of our relationships influences our health, our perceptions of life, and our level of stress.
So, how can we empathize?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another (dictionary.com). Key word: feeling. Empathy is about understanding and sharing a feeling, not a situation.
I don’t really know what it’s like to lose a parent, but I have experienced loss and grief.
Fathers don’t really know what mothers experienced during the birth of their children, but they have experienced pain.
You don’t really know what it’s like for your kids in school these days, but you do know frustration, confusion, and anxiety.
Most of us don’t really know what it’s like to not be able to walk, to see, to hear, but most of us know how it feels to face seemingly impossible challenges.
Empathizing with another is about feeling the feeling of the other person. In order to empathize with you, I have to connect to the hurt in me to understand the hurt in you. Therefore, it can be uncomfortable to empathize with another- we often would rather not go to that place in ourselves. (This can then bring out sympathy. Brené Brown has a great short video about the difference between empathy and sympathy. Watch it here.)
So, yes, we are all unique, but we are also all the same; we may not share the same physical experiences but we share the same emotional experiences.
Next time, when you listen to a loved one, consciously try to empathize with them - connect to the feeling in you to understand the feeling in them.
Here’s to conquering stress.
The Stress Experts
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