What is empathy? Put quite simply, empathy is being able to feel with someone, or take a view from someone else's perspective. It is not as easy as it sounds. We all encounter circumstances that force our focus to narrow in on our own safety and well being - and this is okay, sometimes even necessary. But in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, as we manoeuvre different relationships, we can quickly lose sight of the meaningful perspectives and experiences of others. As a result, our relationships can quickly become misunderstood, strained, and badly broken.
Dr. Brené Brown's analogy of empathy helps us to understand it a little better:
Here are ways in which empathy can be powerful in restoring and healing our relationships:
1. It validates through selflessness
By being willing to put aside your judgment and priorities, you are telling the other person that their story, feelings, and time matter. It can be incredibly difficult for someone to allow themselves to become vulnerable and share what matters to them. Allowing them the time and space to be heard tells them that their experience is valid and valuable.
2. It increases interconnectedness through understanding
Empathy isn't an objective experience. What it does is allows us to listen and develop a shared understanding between each other, and identify the value in each other's perspectives. Let's not be mistaken - empathy isn't simply about agreeing with the other person's perspective. It's about agreeing to listen, clarify and understand their viewpoint. By doing this, we open ourselves up to learning more about the other person's character, values, and worldview. And more often than not, as a result, you'll realize that at the core of it all there are more things in common than are different.
3. It builds trust through respect
Engaging in empathy forces us to take a non-judgmental stance as we share in the experience of another person's story. Empathy strips us of our preconceived notions of what should be, and allows us to acknowledge what is, and how it's shaping the other person's experience in this moment. This act of respect fosters mutual trust, a necessary cornerstone in a long and meaningful relationship.
4. It empowers through simply being heard
There are few things more powerful and meaningful than being heard and understood. When you empathize with someone, you are validating the power of their voice in the web of their own experience. This is especially meaningful for marginalized groups whose perspectives have been silenced or made invisible by the standards of the majority. Empathy provides the space to amplify those voices and makes the invisible visible, allowing us to see our own experiences in others.
As you continue to navigate your relationships, don't lose sight of the power of empathy.