Empathy: Learning to Understand

June 26, 2016

Empathy is something that many people have always had, while others have had to acquire it. To empathize means to know why the other person acted in a certain way. Knowing how to understand them.

This doesn’t mean that you agree with the person, it just means that you can read why they acted that way, delving much further than what you can clearly see.

“The ability to put yourself in the other person’s place is one of the most important functions of intelligence. It demonstrates the maturity level of human beings.”

-A. Cury-

Having empathy will not only help us in our relationships with others, but it will also help us with ourselves. Start practicing it today.

Boost your empathy

heart of vines

If you’re already an empathetic person, you should learn how to make your empathy more powerful, because in that way you’ll be able to take full advantage of it. If it’s hard for you to empathize with others, it’s time to practice the exercise of putting yourself in another’s place. 

This isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible either. To start empathizing, you just have to observe. Put yourself and your own perspective aside, and start to look through the eyes of other people.

For some people this comes naturally, but for others it’s a lot more difficult to do. With time and practice you’ll be able to do it. In the meantime, want to know how to boost your empathy?

  • Observation is an important step towards empathy, especially the observation of nonverbal behavior. People can say one thing, but their nonverbal language expresses something completely different. Analyze their gestures and movements, because that will reflect their deeper feelings and emotions.
  • It’s also important to listen to what they say, again, both verbally and nonverbally. Listening is much more important than talking. Thanks to active listening and observation, you’ll be able to put yourself in their place and understand them.
  • Understanding is the last step towards boosting empathy. Through observing and listening, you’ll begin to understand what is happening to the other person, even if you don’t feel the same way. Not sharing the same attitude does not mean that we have to judge them, but rather understand them, open our minds and let them enter. Respect their attitude and understand it even if you don’t share it.

Empathy is being able to immerse in the emotional world of the other person…without drowning in it.

Understanding favors empathy

frozen broken heart

We’ll never be able to empathize if we can’t understand or respect the reactions and attitudes of other people. We should never judge anyone, because maybe tomorrow will do the same thing that we’re criticizing right now.

Opening your mind and understanding different perspectives will help you to learn more about personal relationships, and you’ll be able to empathize with other people better.

To be able to empathize with others, whether it comes naturally or whether you have to force yourself, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Look at the other person with interest.
  • Control your emotionsIf you reject something that they said, don’t show it.
  • Let them know that you understand.
  • Immerse yourself in what they’re telling you.
  • Show support.

All of this will help you understand the other person, and it will help them feel better and supported. And when the time comes and you need to be understood, hopefully you’ll also be able to find someone who knows how to empathize with you.

“People who are hard, inflexible, arrogant, negative…tend to have a lot of difficulty being empathetic and understanding what happens to the people around them. They’ve lost their capacity to observe, and with that their capacity to understand.”

-María Jesús Álava Reyes-

Sometimes we find it very difficult to empathize with others. This happens when pain and disappointment are present. These negative emotions are much stronger than sensitivity, and so we lose perspective, and empathy is relegated.

Empathy can be learned, but it’s necessary to put in the effort to observe, listen actively, and understand. Do you want to learn how to understand others? Do you want to learn how to understand different behaviors? If you do, it will enrich your life and your interpersonal relationships.

girl with headband

Images courtesy of Mina Smoke and Christian Schloe