Emotional Wellbeing: How to Build Empathy
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
~To Kill a Mockingbird
Our emotional health has a direct impact on our physical wellbeing and vitality. Surrounding ourselves with loved ones and being part of a community are as vital to our longevity as eating well, exercising, taking care of our cells, and detoxing from electronics and environmental toxins.
Empathy plays a large part in helping us forge genuine and lasting connections with the people in our lives, as well as the world at large. Different from sympathy, empathy arises when we step into the shoes of a fictional hero or heroine or the person across the table from us and actually feel what they feel—sadness, grief, joy, anger, or a complex array of emotions.
Empathy helps us share and understand other people’s feelings and emotions; receiving empathy during a hard time can be the difference between joy and despair. Although some people are more naturally sensitive than others, empathy is a skill that can be learned at any point in life, though it is ideally taught in childhood and reinforced throughout the rest of our lives.
Our tips on how to build empathy as an adult:
Discover What’s Blocking You
We each have our own unique blocks to empathy and understanding. These blocks are rooted deep in the parts of our own emotional bodies. And, although it can be difficult to name and change our relationships with our own emotions, the simple awareness that it is our lack of self-acceptance that gets in the way of being empathetic with others can help us to break through the barriers in our relationships.
Rather than becoming upset with ourselves when we respond without empathy, we can begin to explore our inner worlds without judgment and discover what exactly is keeping us from responding in a kind and loving way.
Practice Paying Attention
We live in a time and culture where being busy and distracted is not only accepted but glorified. Empathetic cues are missed simply because we are not paying attention. We forget to listen, or fail to notice the subtle emotional cues on a person’s face or written in their body language. Add alcohol, drugs and lack of sleep to that equation and we find ourselves walking around in a world full of zombies.
Taking 10 minutes a day to practice meditation and mindfulness will help to build the capacity to pay attention and focus when the people you love need you most. You will be more aware of your inner world and emotional state, which will help you to respond in a kind and empathetic way.
Hone Your Listening Skills
Like empathy, listening is a skill. When someone shares their experience, do you find yourself listening or do you find yourself planning your response? We tend to get so excited in conversation that we forget to slow down enough to listen. We are all desperate to be heard, especially when nobody seems to be listening to what we’re saying.
Listening with a touch of empathy can be the biggest gift you can give a loved one or stranger. Consider the hundreds of thousands of therapists and psychologists who make a living by employing this much-needed skill. To hone your listening skills, practice pausing and slowing down long enough to listen with your whole body the next time a loved one or coworker is talking to you. Take this one step further by reflecting back one thing your heard them say and ask them if you understood them accurately.
Tuning into our emotional wellbeing and the emotional wellbeing of others is a simple and profound way to live a fuller, healthier life.
Photo by Eye for Ebony via Unsplash
- Self Cultivation,