With everything happening right now in the world, and so many emotions surrounding the pandemic and the quest for social justice, the need for empathy and compassion for others is great. So what is empathy really, and how can we use it in a way that is helpful right now? Well in order to answer that question, I have to first explain the different kinds of empathy and how they function. First, know that empathy is absolutely a learned skill. So even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, it can be cultivated. Empathy translates to ‘feeling in’, so it’s about giving careful thought and compassion and connecting with the person you are with. It is making them feel like they are not alone. It is truly a key component to Emotional Intelligence, or Emotional IQ, and is something I go through extensively in my course in increasing emotional strength and intelligence, The Emotional Empowerment Project.
There are three main types of empathy. First up is emotional empathy, and this type is when you directly feel the emotions of someone else. If you have ever heard someone say that they are sensitive to the emotions of others, or that they are an empath, this is what they mean. They can literally take on and feel the emotions of other people. It has to do with a person’s mirror neurons, meaning that they have neurons that fire up when others express emotions, causing them to be able to relate directly to that emotion themselves. It’s what happens when you cry at a wedding, or you feel embarrassed for someone when they mess up their lines when speaking in front of a crowd. It’s a gut reaction that makes you feel a connection with that other person and relate to them. The pitfall with this type of empathy is when a person who feels emotional empathy toward someone else has a hard time regulating their own emotions, which is one of the reasons why I created The Emotional Empowerment Project, to help people to be able to strengthen their own emotional management skills like I have learned to do myself as an intuitive empath.
The second type is Cognitive Empathy, which is more about thought. It’s when you understand why a person feels the way they do on an intellectual level. You can think through if a particular thing happened to someone, how they might feel, but you don’t necessarily have an idea of what that emotion feels like. If you don’t take something from your own experience as a guide to understanding how another person feels, then it can actually come across as detached or a bit cold. The ideal would be a mix of these two, where you understand why a person feels the way they do, and you can relate to their emotions as well. This is one of my natural skills as an intuitive empath. I have an innate knowing of what someone is feeling and why they are feeling that way. Even if you haven’t been in the other person’s shoes and can never truly know what it’s like, you can have empathy and understand and feel for them.
Third is Compassionate Empathy, which adds an additional element into the mix. Not only do you understand the situation someone is in, and you feel for them, you also are motivated to help and go into action on their behalf. This is truly ideal as it links compassion, empathy, and action all in one. This is what you are seeing with the pandemic and the civil rights protests. So many people who do not experience racism on a daily basis themselves, are seeing and understanding the experiences of people who do and are taking on their cause as their own. They are feeling, seeing, and hearing the pain of others, and taking action-whether it’s educating themselves, protesting, voting, having conversations, or all of the above.
In order to figure out where you are starting in your journey of emotional intelligence as it relates to empathy, look at whether you respond or react when someone shares their feelings with you. If a friend tells you that she just lost her job due to the pandemic, or that she has experienced racism in her daily life, do you respond with empathy and thoughtfulness, or do you simply react by making it about you, with your own thoughts, opinions, and views of the situation?
You must be open minded in order to grow. If you insist on staying closed minded, you are also closing yourself off to change. Take a look at your own belief system, and look at where that came from. For most of us, it is a combination of our parents, school, society, religion and culture that we were raised in. When you hear someone else’s point of view that is different from your own, how do you react? Do you take it as a personal attack on your own belief system? Start to look at others’ points of view, and be an objective observer, seeing things from their perspective. Even if it challenges your own, appreciate their point of view and accept it as their own separate from yours. People who are open minded are much less stressed, and more optimistic in general as they move through the world. Closed minded people on the other hand, are resistance to change, and need to feel a sense of control over the outside world. Practice looking at the world around you with the curiosity and wonderment of a child. Begin to consider new experiences and thoughts, and be open to learning new skills and meeting new people who may be different from you. Being open to the world and to your own personal growth will also grow your confidence, and awareness of the beliefs and thoughts in your own mind is the first step to increasing your emotional strength and intelligence. Take personal responsibility for your own life and happiness. One of my mentors once said, “You are where you are by the choices you’ve made or allowed others to make for you.” Take responsibility for and gain awareness of where you are now, and then move forward making new choices. Apply what you learn with purpose and intention, and through this process begin to discover what motivates you and what you truly want your life to look like moving forward. So take some time to reflect on if you’ve been more open minded or closed minded in your life, and how you can begin to expand your mind and learn new things. The evolution that results is truly worth the journey.
If you’d like to explore further what having the support of a mental wellness coach looks like, let’s talk.