“I’m sorry you are going through this.”
“That sounds challenging.”
“That must be hard.”
“How do you feel about everything?”
“You are brave/strong/talented.
“I’m proud of you.”
The current global situation has been detrimental to everyone; the uncertainty is arising due to the pandemic. I am sure all of us can relate that irrespective of the optimism, there are moments where it gets a little frustrating, and we tend to run out of patience. What if, amidst the chaos, someone close or even an acquaintance says few of the above statements to you. How would that make you feel? How would it feel to be understood and heard?
Humans are social beings. We have a longing to be understood and to be loved for exactly who we are. It feels incredible when someone acknowledges your presence, makes you feel like you matter. Apart from this, we also want to form deep, meaningful relationships in our lives, respond skillfully to others’ needs and wants. We want our relationships to be a source of healing, humor, and love. We want Empathy, and we want to know how to offer our Empathy to others. Empathy is an essential skill we all possess to varying degrees, and it can be developed and worked upon throughout our lives.
As Helen Riess said in her book ‘The Empathy Effect’: “Empathy is a delicate balance of appreciating the feelings of others and learning how to manage our own feelings so we can be helpful. “
While growing up, the only kind of intelligence that mattered was the logic and arithmetic, which could be measured by IQ tests. Until very recently, social and emotional intelligence were never considered true aspects of intelligence. Howard Gardner, a psychologist, proposed the theory of Multiple Intelligence, which suggested that traditional psychometric views of intelligence were too limited. He also identified two intelligence-intrapersonal and interpersonal, which were rarely developed during our formal schooling. We were rewarded for getting good grades, with stars and batches, but no one ever taught us how to identify and deal with emotions. We were supposed to figure it out. The absence of emotion regulation made it difficult for some of us to figure out Empathy.
“Empathy is not a gendered skill- it’s a human skill.”
In our society, the socialization process and norms are actively enforcing concepts like gender stereotyping and gender roles. On a very subtle level or sometimes directly, there are culturally approved notions of being and becoming a “man” or “woman.” Men are supposed to be muscular, macho, and expressing emotions is considered a sign of weakness, whereas females are supposed to be soft and polite, sensitive. This leads to a dogmatic notion, wherein males are less empathetic with comparison to females. Males are equally responsive and emotive beings. Non- expression isn’t an indicator of the absence of emotions. They feel too; they can be empathetic as well. Societal norms exert influence on such an extent that males find it difficult to indulge in the process of catharsis, i.e., a healthy outlet of emotions whenever it’s necessary.
The most fundamental ideology that we need to adapt to expand our empathetic capacities is honoring ourselves and others’ struggles. We effortlessly express Empathy to people whose struggles feel more relatable, probably something we might have experienced. The more we identify with the cause and the situation, our response tends to be more empathetic. This makes us feel more connected, knowing we are not the only ones and gives us a sense of relief and the clarity to deal with our struggles in an effective way. Irrespective of that, sometimes, these biases are so ingrained that we have difficulty being objective.
When Empathy is most difficult, that’s the time when you introspect what blocks you from accessing it, with a non-judgmental mindset. Every individual is unique, fighting their own battles. Like you and me, everyone has a different notion or perspective regarding struggles and obstacles. Just because your comprehension of these struggles is not on the same wavelength with somebody else does not mean it is any less. Putting harsh labels on other’s life experiences because there is a lack of relatability from your side is very demeaning and unempathetic. There shouldn’t be standardization in terms of intensity when it comes to being kind towards one’s dilemma.
Resilience is a very subjective characteristic, and it’s natural for it to vary from person to person. One slap might not evoke a response from you but cause severe damage to someone else. When we empathize with others, we encourage authenticity and compassion to blossom in our relationships. All of us had a deep-rooted hatred for Severus Snape until we became acquainted with his past, and whatever he did was to protect Harry Potter. This is the crux of Empathy that we all need to tap into, to understand where people come from and to make peace with it.
We are so busy filling others’ cups constantly yet treating ours so irresponsibly. How are you going to be empathetic to somebody else if your emotional reservoir is often empty? As cliché as this sounds, your capacity to love others is often limited by your capacity to love yourself. Even on personality tests, self- empathy is correlated with positive traits such as motivation, creative thinking, and life satisfaction. Self-care is not synonymous with self-pity, and it doesn’t mean we neglect the aspect of accountability; it merely means that just like others, we too need love, compassion, and we should not shy from those needs. So, it’s equally important to be empathetic to yourself. Treat yourself with the same kindness you might express to your close ones, allow yourself to make mistakes. We always come out more potent as a person. Do not let your mind be a heap filled with constant doubts, live a little, and sometimes give yourself the break you deserve. Together, we can empower each other and make Empathy a revolution in this world!