Empathy is the ability to understand another’s point of view – to mentally put yourself in the other person’s shoes and know what they’re feeling and why they’re acting a certain way.
Although empathy is innate in humans, it is increased or decreased from life experiences. Traumatic experiences tend to have the most impact on the level of empathy from one person to another.
The environment you’re born into also has an effect on how much empathy you’ll have as an adult. The customs and thinking process of the culture you’re born into also impacts how you might view others.
A child’s behavior model(s) such as parents also shapes the capacity for empathy. Sometimes a very empathetic person can even feel the emotions that another person is having.
Empathy and sympathy are different – with empathy you understand another’s behavior or emotions on a deep level. Sympathy also helps you understand another’s circumstances, but you don’t feel deeply about it.
Empathy is definitely a skill that can be learned – but, just like being an artist, you must have some capacity to make it a skill that works for you. You can learn what it is, acquire the knowledge of how it’s used and even hone it to reach higher levels.
You must understand yourself before you can understand others. Having empathy for yourself is a prerequisite to having empathy for others. After you gain an understanding about why you think and feel the way you do, you can begin the quest to understand others.
Teaching yourself to be empathetic and understand others takes a huge commitment on your part and much practice. You can practice being empathetic by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and thinking about why a person might be behaving or feeling a certain way.
Being able to communicate your empathy for others in a non-verbal manner is a higher level of empathy. It comes after the ability to demonstrate empathy. There are several ways you can increase your empathy for others.
Truly listening to people is one way. When you’re tuned in to what the other person is saying and note their non-verbal cues such as body language, you’re better able to communicate effectively.
It sounds simple, but when you smile at people, you’re releasing chemicals in the brain that make you feel good – and empathetic toward others. The person you’re smiling at can feel a connection with you.
Encouraging others is a great form of empathy and can be a great way to build a good relationship. Also, attempt to understand (empathize) with others who don’t share your belief system. Rather than attacking their beliefs, encourage them to share.
You can monitor your quest for empathy by periodically taking stock of your relationships with others – at work and in your personal life. Empathy can strengthen your relationships and help you achieve good things in your life.