We all need empathy. Someone to listen to us and understand what we are feeling, where we are coming from. Yes, if you are an enlightened being, you might not feel the need to connect.
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But there comes a point when most gain a thirst to connect with others. And this article is all about connecting empathically- that being, when someone is feeling something and they want you to connect with that. With this short guide, you will be able to see and feel that on a deeper level than before, just by trying out some of these ideas.
This is the best description I have heard of what empathy is, and it inspired me to try it out:
Have you ever been surfing? Imagine you’re on your surfboard now, waiting for the big one to come. Get ready to get carried with that energy. Now, here it comes. Are you with that energy right now? That’s empathy. No words – just being with that energy.
Let’s Start by Saying What Empathy Is Not
Here are a few common misconceptions of what empathy is, that do not serve connection, but take away the focus from the person needing empathy, and their feelings:
Taking Care of Yourself – When NOT to Empathise
If someone seems like they don’t need empathy or it just isn’t their bag, drop it. Only empathise if you’re getting more connected to the person, not less.
Otherwise, there will be times when empathising is not a fun thing for you to do. Usually, when someone is asking for it, but you yourself really need some empathic connection, this will be a time you simply cannot give it. In this case you are probably best trying to find someone else who can hear you better.
How to Empathise -the Basics
Simply being there with the person in front of you in the moment, not intellectualising their experience, and not judging their feelings, is a consciousness that will serve you when riding the wave of empathy.
Being Aware of Feelings and Needs
If your intention is to connect with the person, to understand their feelings, then this will come across. You don’t even have to say anything, they will sense your sincere wish to connect with them. This can be the most precious gift in the world at a moment of crisis.
For example, if you are stood at a bus stop and someone began repeating the phrase to you, ‘the bus is late’, you could guess that they mean they are stressed out, because they perhaps have a need to get home and rest. If you seem open to hearing them, they will likely tell you.
Source: Emergent Visions
Don’t do something, just be there.
Old Buddhist saying
This one is the most simple of them all, and if you’re feeling at all uncomfortable with the idea of empathising, this is probably your safest bet.
Keep your focus on the feelings and needs of this person. And while maintaining the intention of connecting, you can simply listen and nod when you feel appropriate.
Source: Shamans Collective
This is something you might find useful if even when being listened to, the person in front of you finds little relief, and perhaps is emphatically repeating themselves, perhaps telling a long story over and over again.
If the moment feels right, try reflecting back what they seem to be saying: ‘Are you feeling worried about that?’
If they answer yes, they will tell you about another feeling or concern. Or, if the answer is no, they will think about what it is they are really feeling. This focus allows feelings to be acknowledged and expressed.
For a guess at what they might be feeling, check this out:
Once you have considered their feelings, it can help to guess at what the person is truly wanting: ‘Are you feeling sad (feeling) because you wish you had more love (need) in your life?’ for example.
Check the full list of needs below if you aren’t quite sure of what to guess:
Knowing When Someone’s Had Enough Empathy
It is easy to spot when someone has had enough empathy because you will see them relax. Their speech will slow down or stop, and even their breathing will slow down. Often they will thank you for your gift in being so attentive. They are often much more likely to see a solution to the problem, or feel hopeful that they will now find one.
A way of being sure is by asking; ‘Is there anything more you wanted to say?’ It’s good to be sure, because when pausing for a long time they may simply be getting up the courage to go even deeper with their feelings.
So, there you have it. I hope that this skill will enrich your lives as it has mine. I found people opening up to me in ways I had never seen before, and expressing gratitude to me, and I found deeper levels of connection with the ones I love. I wish the same for you.
P.S. If you’d like to find out more about NVC (Non-Violent Communication) where a lot of my understanding of empathy came from, head over to cnvc.org. (nb, I am in no way affiliated with this organisation, but my life has been touched deeply by learning about this concept, and practicing it in my everyday life).
What do you think? Ever had someone hear your feelings in this way? OR have you tried this out yourself? What happened? I’d love to know, let me know, in the comments below.
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