Often arguments against being able to empathise comes from saying that unless you have had the same experience, you do not know how another feels. And in fact when someone else says to you…’I know just how you feel’ can be met with an internal feeling of ‘how can you?’ The fact is none of us know how another feels exactly, more so empathy is about drawing on a similar experience that gives you an indication of what another may feel, to help you gauge what they may need: Using your own emotional reservoir to draw on a similar experience and utilising your ‘personal empathy library’.
For example, if someones long term marriage is breaking up after 40 years together and having children together, do you know exactly how they feel? You have not had that relationship, or children with that person, how can you know exactly how they feel, what it means to them? However most people by the time they have reached their mid twenties will have had their heart broken….oh the joys!!!
They will have, in their emotional reservoir, and ‘personal empathy library’ memories of feeling lost maybe, scared, relieved, overwhelmed, loss of potential, or having to let go of what you had hoped it was.
That is your starting point, hooking into and connecting with your own emotional reservoir and using that emotional knowledge to imagine what the other may be feeling. Then listening…really listening to their perspective for, what I call, the emotional data, to help you get a clearer picture. Being aware of your emotion and their emotional data enables you to ‘feel’ more accurately their emotions and enables you to more effectively respond.
Neuroplasticity shows that we can strengthen our empathy circuit through practice and the great thing is that this is done even without us realising it. Every time we read a book or watch a film that engages our emotions and the human connection, we are firing those neurons in our brain and putting it through a kind of empathy workout, just like every other part of our body.
Online, you can now access an empathy library that has the top ten most inspiring empathy books and films. So if you are interested in the development and demonstration of empathy check it out. And don’t forget to use your own personal empathy library too!!