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How to train to be empathic?(7 Posts)
I am having cognitive analytic therapy and we discussed about my lack of empathy. I have always understood that empathy is to think how I would feel if something happens and correlate that to how other part feels. Apparently it isn't like that!? I should think how the other person feels. Psychologist said that I might not have empathy but more probably I haven't trained to be empathic. I am confused.
Yes, empathy is about understanding how something feels for the other person, in the context of their life and experience as opposed to how you might feel about it if it happened to you. It conveys a real sense of attending to and connecting with the other person - so starts with really listening to what they may be telling you and putting to one side your own opinions and beliefs.
It is a skill that can be learnt to a certain extent, but is also an attitude and way of being.
Yes agree with clearing very good description but I think it off that a psychologist says you haven't trained to be empathetic - it isn't something you "train" in........it's like any other personal qualities that we might have (or not) kindness, sensitivity, reliability etc. Sometimes people confuse sympathy with empathy. Sympathy of course if feeling sorry for someone as opposed to trying to understand how something feels for the other person as clearing has explained.
Our personal qualities I think are part of our make-up and tend to be sort of "built in" dependent upon our background. Children pick up the qualities that are "modelled" by their parents, so if the parents have positive personal qualities, it's likely that the children will adapt those qualities as well. I think empathy is a fairly rare personal quality to have to be honest - can you think of how you were parented and what you picked up from your childhood experiences, as I think what happens to us in childhood is very significant and will shape the sort of person we become, to a greater or less extent.
Don't let the psychologist confuse you - he/she shouldn't be doing that - if you don't understand what she's getting at - then say so and ask for further explanation. Sometimes you don't think of things until after the session is over, so make a note of it if this happens and pick it up with her in the next session.
In a practical way, I suppose that being actively empathetic is that, when listening to another person and they finish what they have to say, you can just say 'you must be feeling (whatever it is that might be the resulting feeling from what they have said). This should get you more into the way of thinking and acting empathetically.
It's possible to be empathetic without saying anything, just sitting with someone when they are crying, maybe gently stroking their back, holding their hand and not saying anything is very empathetic, rather than saying stuff like "oh don't cry you'll only upset yourself" etc. Acknowledging someone's feelings are real is empathetic, so if for instance they complain about being let down or something similar, just listening and again a light stroke of the arm, squeeze of the hand whatever will do.
If you are looking for a course which gives you structures you can use to relate to other people in an empathic way, I would suggest NonViolent Communication.
Weirdly the book "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen..." can help. I don't think that to be empathetic you definitely have to understand/know/be able to imagine exactly how somebody is feeling, it's just that you accept they may have different feelings to you. ie just because you wouldn't be upset by a particular comment, situation, doesn't mean that they are being silly to be upset by it. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes is part of it but it's not the whole picture.
The stuff about validating feelings and empathetic listening in chapter 1 of How To Talk works for talking to anybody of any age, not just children. It's about not saying things like "You're worrying over nothing, I'm sure it'll be fine!" instead you can reflect back by saying "You sound really worried about that." or "Oh that sounds really tough".
I think the automatic knowing/understanding how someone feels is just a character trait and can't be learned or taught, but being sensitive and aware and accepting of other people's feelings is definitely possible to learn, not that hard either.
I think that's what your therapist might have meant? That you don't have natural empathy (which is fine, I think most people don't know automatically what another is feeling), but also that you've never learnt the other part, about acknowledging, accepting, thinking about. For example a truly unempathetic person might do something that annoys or upsets a friend, thinking "Well I wouldn't mind if she did it to me, so it's okay!" - using empathy, you'd be able to think "Actually, this friend might find that thing hurtful." The "natural" kind of empathy isn't much use here - the "natural" empath who isn't doing the "thinking" empathy might not realise until the friend is hurt, at which point they'd feel terrible, whereas a totally non empathetic person might not realise at all.
Hope that makes sense and isn't more confusing
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