August 21, 2018

Empathizing with emotions in others

When we see that others we care about are hurting, we typically want to help them feel better. However, it’s not always easy to get there. A typical pitfall is one where we try to change what the other person is thinking, for instance by convincing them that the situation isn’t that terrible or try to make them feel better by pointing to the bright side. The problem with this is that ittypically leads to the other person not feeling understood or even feel stupid or weak for feeling what he is feeling.

Another typical pitfall is one where we try to find a solution right away to get rid of the problem. This can feel invalidating and make the person feel like what they are feeling isn’t that big of a deal. Most likely, the person has allready thought about what he or she can do, but needs help to deal with emotional needs of safety, comfort, acceptance or feeling entitled to set boundaries.

Rather, try to meet the other person with empathy, which involves showing understanding of how they must experience the situation. Try to put words to what it must be like for that person to feel what he or she is feeling. This might sometimes actually increase the intensity of the other ones feeling, but don’t worry, it just means you managed to reach their inner world and be with them.

Also, try to confirm that it is okay to feel what the other person is feeling, even if you might not have felt the same yourself. You could say: “It’s no wonder you’re sad, it was a really bad thing that happened.” This communicates that it is ok to feel like that.

See if you can dare to stay with the other person in their pain, even if the emotions are strong. Show that whatever comes up, it’s okay. It can be painful to be left alone with difficult feelings and it can be scary if others disappear or panic the very minute you show your emotions. Also, hold back on solutions until the person asks for it. When you meet people with empathy, curiosity and openness, their feelings are more easily handled and the person usually find the solution themselves.