What is the best way to be there for someone when they are hurting or experiencing challenging times? How can we comfort them and ease their pain and suffering?
In this beautiful short animated video, Dr Brené Brown teases apart the difference between empathy and sympathy and shows us how empathy fuels connection, while sympathy drives disconnection.
She also shares the four attributes of empathy and reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are courageous enough to truly get in touch with our own fragilities.
- Perspective taking: Perspective taking refers to being willing and able to see and feel the world through the eyes of the other, walking in their shoes as the saying goes. This requires putting aside our own stuff and really just listening to what they are going through.
- Staying out of judgment: Brené notes that judgement of another person’s pain or challenge discounts the experience and is an often an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain they are feeling. Staying out of judgment means being open to what they are feeling and refraining from comments that invalidate their experience or make them feel wrong such as, “that’s nothing“ or “I don’t know why you’re getting so upset about it”.
- Recognise emotions: Recognising the emotion means looking within yourself and remembering what it is like to have the feeling the other person seems to be feeling. It is a willingness to acknowledge fully what they are feeling and perhaps naming it. You might ask them if you’ve identified what they’re feeling correctly by saying something like, “It sounds like you are feeling really frustrated” or “I’m sorry, it sounds like you’re feeling so sad about that”.
- Communication: Rather than saying, “At least you…” try really communicating that you understand where they are at and validate what their feeling and experience is. You might for instance say something like, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting. I’ve been there, and it sucks” or to quote Brené directly you could try, “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it”.
Brené notes that empathy is a skill that that we can train and with practice it can strengthen more and more like a muscle. She encourages people to deliberately practice it often.
When we give others empathy we allow them to feel, to be fully heard, and accepted. We also encourage compassion, authenticity and intimacy to flourish in our relationships. Of course by doing this, our loved ones are more likely to behave in a similar way when we’re hurting – meeting our pain with the warm embrace of understanding and kindness.