I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy – what it is and what it isn’t. Truthfully, I don’t think empathy is my best trait, but I’m trying to improve. Brené Brown talks a lot about empathy. Oprah too (“All people want is for you to show up and say, ‘I don’t know what to say but I’m here.’”).
In my recent experiences I’ve come to see that being empathetic requires a prioritizing of the other person’s feelings over yours. You often have to put your own opinions aside in order to fully show up with empathy for someone else. Empathy isn’t about problem solving; it’s about caring and being there. It’s putting your feelings of love and concern for someone else over your own, over what you may know because empathy is about what you feel and, most especially, what the other person feels.
Empathy does not feel like criticism or like there’s a problem that needs to be sorted out. It’s not feedback either, or suggestions. There’s a place for all of that when relating to and with others, but it’s not during empathy. Empathy is simply about listening to what’s being said and what’s not being said.
Empathy isn’t easy, but neither is connection. It’s not always natural, but it’s always possible if we have the right intention in mind.