Thursday, September 23, 2010

Developing Empathy

On this blogsite, we've talked about all kinds of gifts.  We've shown you ways to enhance those abilities, as well.  So, considering this is a site meant to help teach Empathy,  I thought it'd be a good idea to do a blog on developing the gift of Empathy.

Now, one might ask the question "Why cultivate Empathy?", because some people find the gift of Empathy harrowing and difficult to cope with/manage.  But developing Empathy through these tools does not necessarily mean you will become an Empath who is hypersensitive to the emotions/emotional states of others.  This is simply a means to cultivate what is already within you...your Empathic Nature, which everyone is born with whether they are an Empath or not.

So let's start out by looking at some of the benefits of cultivating the gift of Empathy and move on from there.

5 Reasons to Develop Empathy
  • Empathy is the cornerstone of effective communication. It can expand understanding and convey values and recognition of needs (which is what every communication is essentially about).
  • The ability to “step into another’s shoes” deepens and broadens our perspective-taking skills. We develop greater capacity to see outside of our own narrow windows on the world. When we do this, our relationship skills grow and our ability to generate creativity and ideas increases.
  • Empathy begets other self-supportive emotions. When we cultivate greater empathy in our lives (for self – and others), we enable the triggers of other nurturing emotions like: contentment, satisfaction, confidence, courage, compassion and dare we say – love. Studies have shown that when we experience these emotions they act as an antidote to the detrimental hormones released from stress.
  • Increasing your capacity for empathy is critical if you want to be a better listener – and increase your skill at responding to conflict. Empathy is the quintessential “joining” emotion. It can bring us together at an emotional level even when we disagree with another person. People in triggered ”negative” emotional states can’t really hear and solve problems on a “rational” level until they switch from their emotional brains to their pre-frontal or thinking brains. Our ability to convey understanding through empathy can be instrumental in supporting that process.
  • Demonstrating empathy is contagious. Yes, that’s true. Along with the discovery of mirror neurons, neuroscience has also found that emotions can be contagious. Road rage is a good example of anger contagion. New studies show that kindness and altruism can model positive feelings and behaviors in our workplaces, families and the society in general.
Ways To Cultivate and Enhance The Gift Of Empathy

Empathic Listening

Empathic listening, also known as active listening, is a method of listening that involves understanding both the content of a message as well as the intent of the sender and the circumstances under which the message is given.

Utilizing Empathic Listening

You are listening with full attention to the sounds, and all other relevant signals, including:
  • tone of voice
  • other verbal aspects - e.g., pace, volume, breathlessness, flow, style, emphasis
  • facial expression
  • body language
  • cultural or ethnic or other aspects of the person which would affect the way their communications and signals are affecting you
  • feeling - not contained in a single sense - this requires you to have an overall collective appreciation through all relevant senses (taste is perhaps the only sense not employed here) of how the other person is feeling
  • you able to see and feel the situation from the other person's position
You are also reacting and giving feedback and checking understanding with the speaker. You will be summarizing and probably taking notes and agreeing the notes too if it's an important discussion. You will be honest in expressing disagreement but at the same time expressing genuine understanding, which hopefully (if your listening empathy is of a decent standard) will keep emotions civilized and emotionally under control even for very difficult discussions. You will be instinctively or consciously bringing elements of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and Transactional Analysis into the exchange. It will also be possible (for one who knows) to interpret the exchange from the perspective of having improved the relationship and mutual awareness.

Developing Empathy
  • Put yourself in someone else's shoes by trying to imagine another person's plight. One of the best ways to develop compassion is to put your self in their shoes. What would it feel like to be them.. to have had their experiences, to live their lifestyle, etc. Though it is not possible to actually feel someone else's pain completely, it is important to convey some feelings of understanding to the person.
  • Cultivate Compassion. In order to begin to develop empathic ability, it is essential to care how someone feels. When we have compassion, we attune to the needs and feelings of the person we want to help. When we resist the energies, need and feelings of another, it is pretty hard to really open your self to them enough to know what is going on.
  • Do some self examination. It is important to understand one's own personal biases, values, desires and concerns. It is equally important to stay connected to one's feelings. Self-awareness will help one determine how to interact with others.
    1. Your Self-Talk. How do you talk to yourself? What do you say and how do you say it? When you “fall short” of your own expectations, how do you treat yourself? Unquestionably, the quality of our self-talk is connected to our ability to empathize with others.
    2. Your Beliefs. This is a biggie. Your beliefs about everything filter your perspective, shape your feelings and show up as your behavior. So if you believe that so and so is a lazy slacker, you will be far less able to express any empathy towards him or her – even if some thread of it exists within you. Judgement blocks empathy – and the place to look for judgements is within your belief system.
    3. Your Emotions. For example, how do fear and anger work for you. Just as there are emotions that enable the emotion of empathy to flow, there are several that impede it – fear and anger being the great gatekeepers. Because of the interrelationship between those two powerful emotions – they can be explored and their inner workings revealed together. Two quick examples: we may “fear” that if we demonstrate our empathy towards someone, we may be taken advantage of: and we may withhold our empathy when we also experience anger at someone’s behavior. Because most of us don’t have a great deal of experience “holding” multiple and seemingly contradictory emotions, we allow the more protective (at least to the ego) emotion trump the other.
    4. Your Willingness to stay open and accept the caring, kindness and empathy others show you. Sometimes people are more willing to express these feelings towards others, than receive them. This is usually because allowing empathy in from others, can trigger other feelings like vulnerability that we are not used to experiencing.
  • Work on developing ease in being present to another person's pain without a desire to judge, blame or fix, while staying connected with others, even during difficult situations.
  • Be sincere. This means genuinely caring for the other person's well being. It doesn't mean you must approve of everything they do or believe. It simply means that you sincerely accept them as a fellow human being who is struggling, just like you.
  • Be helpful and learn to listen. Empathy is about listening... not just hearing. Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning, which translates into understanding when, refer to human relationships.
  • Give the other person your full attention. Try to have eye contact and open body language, even if the other person is not looking at you, still look in their direction. If is a person who is close enough to you, hold their hand, have open body language by directing your body towards the body of the other person.
  • Do not offer answers or solutions unless you are asked for them. If there is something that interferes with empathy is rushing into quick solutions. Most people only need to be listened to and validated.
  • Develop Your Heart Chakra. When our heart chakra is truly open, we have the experience of the woven-ness of reality. We are not as separate as we seem. When another person is in pain, we have the knowledge of their need, and may respond to it appropriately. Breathe in and out of your heart chakra. imagine it opening like a lovely flower. Feel all the love that has ever been given to you, and feel and see all those who have ever loved. Be sure to include animals, who are great teachers of unconditional love. Allow your heart to grow several sizes. Some gemstones that are helpful for opening the heart chakra are rose quartz, malachite, emerald and ruby.
  • Develop Your Third Eye Chakra. When the third eye is open, we can experience strong clairvoyance. Through it, we can perceive more clearly what is going on in the minds and hearts of those around us. When the third eye is closed, we tend to be more mental in our approach, and spend way too much time trying to figure things out instead of just "knowing." To open the third eye, sit quietly focusing on the third eye. While you attention is there, chant the mantra, "aum." envision light filling your skull, and emanating out of your third eye. After a time, if you like, you may ask a question, and allow a vision that represents the answer to appear in your mind.
  • Utilize meditation. Although some empaths would prefer not to have the ability, others wish to learn how to become empathic. The following meditation can help a person tune into their ability. The idea of this meditation is to get in touch with one's feelings, in order to help be in tune with the feelings of others.
After positioning yourself comfortably in a chair with the back having a good posture, start breathing deeply and calmly while letting the eyes gently close. Think of nothing else but the breath. Although there may be distractions in the mind, let them go and continue to only be aware of the breath while allowing the mind and body to relax.

Next, think of different times in life when something has happened that has caused a large emotional reaction. Go back to that time and relive it in the mind. Allow all the emotions felt at the time to come through and to be recognized. Are there any painful moments in life that have never been resolved? By recognizing them and feeling them, it becomes a way to try to resolve the issue and heal.

In being an empath, it's important to stay connected to one's feelings. Now, think of someone special in your life and something that happened to that person and how that person felt. Envision the occurrence in the mind and try to feel the emotions that the person felt at the time of the incident.

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