Empathy is the ability to read other people’s emotions, so you can respond in a manner most appropriate for the situation.
Without empathy, you struggle to understand the context of what another person says or does. You are left to interpret their words and actions by your definitions, by your take on the situation. Of course, no two people see the same situation exactly alike. Often, the difference can be drastic. Words are, at best, approximations. Even within homogenous groups, without empathy, you’re left guessing about what motivates the other person.
This can be frustrating for everyone involved. The other person feels like you don’t get them and you feel like you’re not coming across. Neither party feels seen or heard. You feel like you’re always on different pages. You might decide to go separate ways, only to experience a similar conflict with the next person.
Empathy is about understanding where someone is coming from, but also it’s about giving them the space to go where they need to go, on their own, at their pace, within their world of priorities. In the vast majority of situations, people know the answers to their own questions. They just need to be provided the space to hear themselves think, to reflect and allow the answers to emerge.
Empathy is a safe container for the other person to experience their emotions in. Most important is that they do not feel judged by you. If they feel you have an agenda, they don’t feel safe to be themselves. If they feel criticized, they start reacting to you trying to impose your views on them. Then both of you are in a reactive state. The opportunity for the other person to connect to their internal process of self-realization is lost.
Humans are social animals and the primary function of social interaction is to see and hear yourself reflected by others. Without meaningful social interaction, the human spirit withers and dies. When someone lacks empathy, they’re ability to reflect your feelings is limited. As a result, you don’t feel as validated for who you are. It’s in the safe space a silent witness provides, that you realize yourself best.
A lack of empathy impacts all areas of life where people come together. It has implications for wherever you interact with people, in your career, relationships, making and maintaining friendships, in being a successful leader and role model.
Empathy is closely related to being a good listener. It has less to do with what words you use than it does with the quality of your attention and your energy. Empathy is the glue for trust and safety with others. People are less inclined to let you lead them if they don’t trust that you get them. They’re less inclined to love you if they don’t feel safe to be themselves. You experience a deeply empathic person as warm, trustworthy, and someone you can easily bond with. Whereas, a lack of empathy you feel as cold, critical, and someone you’d rather keep a safe distance to.
While ideally, both parties to a conversation take turns empathizing with the other, it can be challenging if one person is empathic and the other isn’t. The empathizer feels like they are not getting the equivalent back. The relationship is too one-sided and the sooner you address the matter, the better.
Fortunately, empathy is something you can work on, although every person has a different baseline. While some research suggests that genetics can play a role in your ability to empathize, your baseline usually comes from the way you have been exposed to others’ empathy (or not) growing up. How far you can expand from your baseline, depends on many factors, the biggest of which is your overall dedication to personal growth and self-love. Empathy is not just a quality you extend to others. It’s also how you treat yourself. Give yourself credit where credit is due. Be kind to yourself when kindness is due.
It’s hard to grow in an environment that doesn’t support you. It’s hard to heal around people who don’t make you feel safe. Examine yourself and your relationships. If you experience frequent friction, it could be due to a lack of empathy from one or both sides. Empathy is the frequency upon which love travels. When both people are tuned in, love flows. If one or both are not, there is static.
The deeper your empathy, the deeper your ability to love and feel loved. At the end of the day, in all your seeking for answers, what you want is permission. Permission to be you. But despite the seemingly straight-forward request, it can be hard to find. The whole world is telling you who you should be. Very few are telling you to be you.
Not only is it ok to be you, it’s your rockstar purpose to be you.
Be a rockstar. Be you!