Empathy vs. sympathy: a long running debate and many misunderstandings between which is which. Sympathy is often a default, in my opinion, versus empathy being a much more difficult and active choice, and overall a better one. But how can you be more empathetic?
While having deep life talks with a friend of mine, we got on the topic of mental health (if you’re a long time reader, you know I am very outspoken on mental health) and how to discuss it/ help someone. That brought up how important empathy is when wanting to help someone through anything, not just mental health. The problem, he said, was not having the exact same experience or not dealing with the same issues as the person you want to help. But, I said it is still possible to be empathetic, but we tend to divert to sympathy instead.
For example, he doesn’t have an equal experience with mental health difficulty as I do. He has relatively good mental health, while I have battled through some issues and still do. So he didn’t know how to be empathetic towards me, even if he wanted to. And I have a feeling there are many people who are the same way out there.
Listen, Listen, Listen
I have literally told people who were being too sympathetic that they weren’t listening to me. In order to be empathetic, you need to really understand what the other person means and feels, not make assumptions and focus on solutions. Understanding works better than fixing.
Find A Connection
Even if you don’t have the same issues and problems as the other person, you can try to find a time where you felt a similar way or had a similar reaction. That is what empathy is about: feeling mutually with a person. If you can find a time and be able to say “I know how you feel” than you are being empathetic.
Don’t Fake It
Faking it can be bad for 2 reasons: you can’t actually aid the other person and you will ultimately lose their trust. Don’t say “Yeah, I’ve been there” if it is not true, because then the other person will put way more faith in you that you can’t handle, and when you falter because of that, you will lose their trust. Don’t force empathy if it’s not possible.
How do you view empathy? Let me know with a comment.