Thursday, June 08, 2017

Some Thoughts On Empathy

The act of compassion begins with full attention, just as rapport does.  You have to really see the person.  If you see the person, then naturally empathy  arises.  If you tune into the other person, you feel with them, you want to help them, and that begins as a compassionate act”.
-Daniel Goleman

I recently read an article about people who have empathy.  What is empathy?  It is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  When I took a test called “Strength Finders” empathy came out as my number one strength.  I have found this to be both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand it is a blessing because I generally know and understand how other people feel.  Knowing how people feel makes it easier to be compassionate.  On the other hand I sometimes find it exhausting to absorb the feelings of other people around me, especially when they are troubled or in pain.  The article I read about empathy focused on the fatigue that empathetic people often feel.  We tend to be sponges for other people’s feelings and it can sometimes be a heavy load to carry.  Since I am an empathic person let me clarify a few things.  Just because I understand your feelings doesn’t necessarily mean I care or that I feel sorry for you.  Empathy and sympathy are not the same thing.  Sympathy is when you have feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune.  It is possible to understand another person’s feelings without feeling pity or sorrow for them.  You can also feel pity and sorrow for them and have absolutely no idea how they feel.  Whether you understand people’s feelings or feel sympathy for their experience, you can still show compassion for them.  The first step in being a compassionate person is to simply be a kind person.  We can all be kind.  Kindness is more of an attitude than a strength although some people seem to be especially gifted when it comes to showing kindness.  Whatever your strength or gift, you need to realize that everyone is carrying some kind of burden.  No one is without challenges. 

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