How to be empathetic in everyday life

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Empathy is one of the most essential skills we need to have in order to not just survive but make the world a better place. Empathy brings every one of us closer to each other, thus uniting us and making as one. That is why it is really important to practice empathy and make it a part of our daily lives. While others are naturally empathetic than some, there are exercises that anyone can do to improve. Here are some ways on how to be empathetic in everyday life.

Be interested in other people’s lives

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In order to have empathy, we need to at least have interest in other people’s lives. We need to have a healthy level of curiosity about how others are going about their day. Go out. Talk to people. Engage with others and listen to their stories. By doing this, we can easily put ourselves in their situation and understand them in a deeper level. As Jodi Halpern, a psychiatrist and bioethics professor at the University of California, Berkeley said, “For me, the core of empathy is curiosity.”

Listen

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You might be thinking, “Well, I listen all the time!”, but we might not be aware that we’re actually not listening. Zino of Citium, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, said, “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” Remember, hearing is different from listening. The former means you are aware of the sounds (voice) coming from the other person, but you’re not getting what they’re saying. The latter is fully engaging your full attention to the other person, making their words go into your mind. Listening will help you understand what others are saying, so listen attentively when talking to someone.

Be honest

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Honesty really is the best policy. When you speak from your heart, other people will see it as being sincere and honest. This will make them think you’re a good person and that you understand them. This will also make them more honest towards you. To strengthen a bond and truly connect with the other person, you both need to speak from the heart and show your vulnerabilities.

Try to live someone else’s life

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Sometimes, standing in someone else’s shoes is not enough. You actually need to take a walk in them! Empathy is not just being aware of other people’s feelings, but also understanding them in a deeper level. For example, when you find someone extremely bothersome, acknowledging the fact that he is stressed is good, but you can go further than that. Try to see how much sleep they get, how healthy their meals are, or how hard their job is.

Work with others

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Working with others is a great way to improve your empathy. By forming a team or group to do a project together, you will bound to get to know who they are and what their stories are. For instance, when you work with your classmates for a group project, you’ll spend countless hours to do it. In these hours, you’ll know more about them. You’ll share meals and laugh with them. You will get stressed out alongside them. And you’ll triumph with them. As the English poet John Donne said, “No man is an island.”

Show affection

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Showing affection is another way of creating a deeper connection with others. It can be a hug, a handshake, a pat in the back, or even sitting beside them while they talk. Humans are physical beings, so these physical gestures are great for letting them know you’re there for them. Just make sure you don’t go overboard; you don’t want to hug someone who’s not a close friend or is uncomfortable with it.

Read books

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Reading is an awesome way of learning something. Dr. Seuss said, “The more you read, the more things you will know.” If you have the time, try to look for books about empathy. It can be novels, papers, or even stories for kids! Any book is great as long as you thoroughly read and understand its contents. If you’re looking for an amazing and simple book about empathy, you should try The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal

For more awesome content about practicing empathy, check out these articles:

6 Ways To Practice Empathy in Daily Life by Jessy Wrigley

How to Be More Empathetic by Claire Cain Miller

Also, watch this amazing Ted Talk about the topic:

How Empathy is used in therapy

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We all know what empathy is—the ability to recognize and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. Empathy is our way of helping others by seeing the world in the eyes of another. This way, you’ll be able to truly understand their feeling without bias. In this article, we’ll learn how empathy is used in therapy and counseling.

Empathy in therapy and counseling

Empathy is definitely a requirement in therapy and counseling. Without it, therapists will never be able to truly connect and understand their patients. In normal circumstances, empathy may only be regarded as understanding others’ feelings. But in therapy and counseling, it’s a lot more than that. Empathy, according to therapist Gherardo Della Marta, is “an expression of the regard and respect the counsellor holds for the client whose experience may be quite different from the counselor.”

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This means empathy in counseling does not only mean being aware of the other person’s thoughts, but also absorbing them yourself without bias. Good therapists treat their patients with the utmost respect and with the intent to help them. They never judge or belittle their patients no matter how absurd and ridiculous their words are. Empathy in therapy is also regarded as an active process. Therapists and counselors do not wait for their empathy to kick in when they’re dealing with a patient. They actually concentrate and listen attentively and actively in order to empathize with them.

With that being said, how is empathy broken down when it comes to therapy and counseling?

Elements of Empathy

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Carl Rogers, the founder of person-centered counseling, organized empathy into three elements. These are:

  1. The therapist understands the client’s feelings,
  2. The therapist’s responses reflect the client’s mood and the content of what has been said,
  3. The therapist’ tone of voice conveys the ability to share the client’s feelings.

Intensity, Context, and Selective Responding

Fred J. Hanna has mentioned that when dealing with patients, it is important to take note of these three things:

  1. Intensity – responding to the patient’s emotions at the appropriate level of intensity
  2. Context – therapists need to take all aspects into account, not just word and non-verbal behavior.
  3. Selective Responding – Some customers do not feel comfortable discussing their feelings. In this case, it is more effective to focus on behavior instead. Same goes the other way around; if they don’t feel comfortable talking about behavior, focus your attention towards their feelings.
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During successful empathic responses, patients may show signs such as a nod of the head or a positive verbal response. When failed empathic responses occur, patients may seem distant, frustrated and unwilling to talk.

By being aware of these signs, taking care of patients will surely be more effective. Therapists may need to adjust their approach according to the clients’ needs.

By using empathy during interactions with clients, therapists will:

  1. Build the relationship
  2. Stimulate self-exploration
  3. Check understanding
  4. Provide support
  5. Assist communication
  6. Focus attention on the client

Three phases of Empathy

According to Watson et. al, empathy is “active, cyclical process characterized by three phases: empathic resonance, empathic communication, and perceived or received empathy.” In the first phase, therapists dig deeper into their clients’ experiences by getting information from their bodily reactions and inner experience to gain understanding in the deeper level. In the second phase, therapists communicate their understanding to their clients. In the third and final phase, clients receive their empathy which results in them feeling understood.

Conclusion

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No matter what shape or form empathy takes, it is and will always be regarded as an important element in therapy and counseling. Without it, therapy will be effective and successful. Therapists and counselors spent years of training in order to master this ability. And with that, they’ve proved to provide important mental health care to people all over the world.

To know more, check out these awesome articles:

Empathy by GoodTherapy.org

Understanding Empathy: What is it and Why is it Important in Counseling by Joaquín Selva

What is empathy? by Gherardo Della Marta

THE VALUE OF EMPATHY IN COUNSELLING by the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors

Also, check out these video about how empathy is used in counseling:

Which is better, empathy or advice?

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The journey of life is filled with challenges, problems, and road blocks that prevent us from achieving our dreams. Because of these problems, some of us will have a hard time navigating our lives and will seek others’ attention and care.

When you’re one of the people who gets approached by a friend with many problems, what do you do? Do you sit down and listen to their woes, or do you go counseling-mode and try to help them? Which is better, empathy or advice?

What is empathy?

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Empathy has a lot of definitions in different fields. Empathy, according to the Oxford dictionary, means ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. It is the ability to understand the feelings of other people by putting yourself in their perspective and feeling their emotions as if they are your own.

For Hodges and Myers in the Encyclopedia of Social Psychology, Empathy is often defined as understanding another person’s experience by imagining oneself in that other person’s situation: One understands the other person’s experience as if it were being experienced by the self, but without the self actually experiencing it.

Neuroscience also has its own technical definition of the word. According to a recent research paper, empathy is “a multifaceted construct used to account for the capacity to share and understand the thoughts and feelings of others” (Decety & Yoder, 2016). In this paper, the authors classified empathy into two types: emotional empathy and cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy is all about being aware and feeling other people’s emotions. Cognitive empathy is all about understanding their feelings and putting yourself in their position both intellectually and emotionally.

To make it short and simple, empathy is being sensitive of other people’s feelings and understanding them by putting yourself in their position and perspective.

What is an advice?

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An advice is any guidance or recommendations based on the person’s experience and expertise offered to others with the purpose of improving their situation and solving their problems. Advice is essential when it comes to helping others, especially if they are in need of your expertise about the subject matter.

This is why there are jobs created with the purpose of providing counsel and advice to troubled people. Therapists, psychiatrists, counselors, and advisers are just some of the examples of these kinds of jobs. Being a certified counselor certainly gives you enough credibility and influence for people to approach you and ask for help. But you don’t always have to be certified to give advice. Most people, whenever they’re having problems, go to their parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends to ask for their advice.

However, the problem with this is that they might be subject to bias and personal opinions instead of giving a sound and credible advice. This is because all of us are going through different journeys. Some of our hurdles might be similar to others, but our attitude, environment and mental fortitude certainly varies.

Which is better?

While giving advice is great and helpful, it is not what is always needed. According to Lao Tzu, “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”

The Chinese philosopher said that simplicity, patience, and compassion are all you need in order to help others. You don’t necessarily need to become an adviser or counselor to help out a friend. You just need to be there for them, give them your attention and offer empathy.

Amateur Psychiatrist

When you care about someone, it might be tempting to transform yourself into an amateur psychiatrist. You might think you’re doing them a favor, but in reality, you’re just annoying them. If you feel the need to offer advice, ask for their permission first.

Criticism instead of advice

Let’s say a friend comes to you and ask for your help with regard to their relationship. Your friend keeps getting hurt because their partner is an abusive person who constantly cheats and lies. But despite all of these, they’re still willing to stay and try to work things out.

As their friend, you feel responsible to give help as much as you can. You tell them to break up with their partner and move on. But your partner still insists on staying. You then become frustrated and tell them they’re making the wrong decisions. Because of this, your friend feels invalidated because you’re not putting yourself in their position. Instead of advice, they’re getting criticism which does not help at all.

In this situation, it is best to just show them your empathy. Tell them what they’re going through is difficult and that you’re there for them.

A solution to all their problems

When you’re giving advice to a friend, they might think you know the solution to all their problems, especially if they previously asked for your advice and it worked. While this is a great way of helping, it might become dangerous when the advice will not work. If your advice works, they’ll be happy. But when it doesn’t, they might become more devastated. They might even think they can’t be helped since your advice had no effect.

If your friend asks for advice, make sure to not make any promises. Tell them your advice is subject to your experience and may not work out for everyone.

How to have empathy

Having empathy is a bit difficult since it requires you to put yourself in someone else’s position, especially if that situation is something you have never experienced. But don’t worry, here are some tips on how to practice empathy:

  • Work on listening to people without interrupting
  • Pay attention to body language and other types of nonverbal communication
  • Try to understand people, even when you don’t agree with them
  • Ask people questions to learn more about them and their lives
  • Imagine yourself in another person’s shoes

For more information about these tips, check out Verywellmind’s article about empathy.

Conclusion

May it be giving advice or practicing empathy, both requires immense understanding of the problems of these world and the feelings of other people. This may be difficult to do, but you need to be ready to give out a helping hand. After all, in this world, no man is an island.

Additional Notes

Check out these amazing content about empathy and advice:

10 Tips to Advise Wisely: How to Give Advice That Actually Helps by Maelina Frattaroli

Understanding Empathy: What is it and Why is it Important in Counseling by Joaquín Selva, Bc.S., Psychologist

Why Empathy Can Sometimes Help More Than Advice by James-Gleason

How to Know When to Provide Empathy or Advice and Why It Matters by Erin Pavlina

You might also want to watch this incredible Ted talk about the power of empathy:

What not to say to someone with anxiety

Mental health is one of the most important aspects of our life that is most likely neglected. Unlike physical health, the deterioration of the mind is harder to recognize because it is still not talked about in society. Sadly, in this century, the rising number of mental health-related illnesses should create a wake-up call that we should do something about it. According to the world statistical data, there are about 275 million people worldwide that are experiencing anxiety disorders. This is quite an alarming number, about 4% of the world’s population. 

All of us experience nervousness or anxiousness as part of our daily lives. However, people with anxiety disorders experience more than the usual. They experience intense feelings that sometimes result in a panic that may interfere with their daily lives. It is a tough experience for the people who have the disorder, but it is also hard for the people around them. It can be both mentally draining to both parties. A misunderstanding causes mental drainage. It is hard to penetrate what is inside each person’s thought process. What we need here is to be educated about each other’s situation. 

Ignorance of the situation could lead to hurtful complications and would end up being wrong. For example, a lack of understanding even though heartfelt leads to saying what is not supposed to be said to a person with an anxiety disorder. This would further complicate their thought process without the person uttering those words knowing what is going. Here will be words to say to a person with anxiety. This might not mean the same to everyone, but it would be the safest thing to say for understanding.

“It is not a big deal.” 

When we say these words, we are invalidating the feelings of a person. We are somewhat implying that their anxiety is not a big deal. We are really facing different battles. What is worrying for you, might be worrying for them, or vice versa. The thing is a person with anxiety is aware that their thoughts might get irrational or extreme. In controlling their feelings, it takes a huge amount of their energy. That is just how anxiety affects them. They cannot control what to worry about and what to be anxious about.

“Stop worrying.”

A person with anxiety would most likely want to stop worrying. But they just cannot do things they want especially when they are panicking. It is not their choice to worry about something, that is what anxiety is. Worrying has become involuntary. So instead of ordering them to something they are not in control of, try validating their feelings. “It is normal to feel that way. You have come this far, and this too, you can overcome it. I believe in you.”

“You need to calm down.”

This might look like a pop title track, but this is something you might avoid saying to a person with anxiety. Basically, in nerve-wracking situations, we need to calm down. But to a person with anxiety, they know they need to calm down. they just find it hard to do so. With you repeating what to do is annoying and might stir up some thoughts. So instead of saying these words, you try to embody what is calm. Lower done your tone and speak gently. Both of you need to take a deep breath. Lead yourselves to serenity. 

Just breathe”

Breathing exercises can help lighten the feelings the best when calm. It can help control anxiety if done routinely. Reminding a person to have breathing exercises is good for them. But during moments of panic, it is hard to shift a fast breathing pattern to a slower one. Saying “just breathe” would add spark to the flame. Try to model breathing. Slow down your own breath. Do it gently.

Everything is just in your head.”

Everything is all up in our heads. People with anxiety are very aware of that. But that does not make their struggle less real. It eliminates the concept of anxiety and practically tells them that anxiety is just imaginary. Make them feel that their struggle is valid. Help them interact and appreciate the things around them. 

“Other people have it worse.”

This is the epitome of invalidity. This is one of the reasons why people with mental conditions opt not to seek help. Society is basically not open-minded about mental health issues. It creates a sense of guilt within a person with anxiety by saying people have it worse. We should know that anxiety needs to be dealt with as it prohibits a person from doing everyday things without being anxious or nervous about it.  

“You should try meditation/yoga.”

While meditation and yoga or other breathing exercises have eased a lot of people with anxiety that does not mean it eases ALL. Anxiety varies from person to person. It will be hard to give them unsolicited advice for it may not work on them. Instead, offer your help. They may know what is best for them to relieve the feeling. Let them know that you are there to help them with anything.

“I know how you feel.”

First, you really do not know unless you also have anxiety. People with anxiety have a complexity of thoughts that prohibits them to control their nervousness or anxiousness. People without it would not really understand their situation. 

“Get over it.”

A person with anxiety is not in control of how they feel. That is how the disorder affects them. Telling them to get over something they are suffering is not going to be helpful. It is like telling someone with asthma to get over with their asthma. It is a health issue. Instead, help them and be with their healing journey. 

It is important to develop a sense of understanding for everyone. Especially to those who need it. Healing takes a lot of time. We need to be patient with those suffering from anxiety. We are not doctors who can treat them but through our compassion, we can be there for them. We can make them comfortable and hopefully take away the stigma that drives them to hide.

For more information about this topic, check out these awesome articles:

9 Things Not to Say to Someone With Anxiety by Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN

10 Things Not to Say to Someone Who Has Anxiety by Gillian Brown

What to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone with Anxiety by McKenna Princing

Also, you might want to watch this video by Psych2Go :