The power of empathy is something which we all have access to, but do we put it to good use? Apparently, if we do we could actually manage our own personal stress and anxiety levels far better.
Exactly what is empathy? It is a human capacity to step into someone else’s proverbial shoes. To fully comprehend, or try to, another’s feelings and personal understanding. It is something deemed necessary in order to fully experience an effective and deep relationship with someone else. It entails the shedding of our own ego in order to authentically ‘see’ someone else. We need to drop our own perspectives and try to look through the other person’s eyes, taking everything that we know about them into account. The ability to be empathetic provides far more genuine communication and gives you wider scope to become a better person, friend, partner, parent or professional. Roman Kznaric writes in his book Empathy – Why it Matters, “By looking outward and attempting to identify with the experiences of others we can become not only a more equal society, but also a happier and more creative one”.
How to practice becoming more empathetic
Actively practicing ways to step inside another’s psyche can really help to tap in to our empathy. Close your eyes and focus on the person, wonder how they think, wonder how they look at life, take a particular scenario and contemplate how they would react to it; how would they move, how would they act, what would they say? Really try to look at life as you imagine they would. For true depth you need to delve into their memories and life experiences, wants and needs. Drop all notion of self; discarding one’s own ego can be the most difficult part of the task, but the most essential. Don’t rush the process, take your time to really ‘be’ someone else. Take note of how you feel afterward and how your own personal perspective of this person has changed or altered.
How to use empathy to reduce stress
When we open up and incorporate a more empathetic life, scientifically we produce more oxytocin, which results in far greater negotiation skills and natural methods of reducing conflict. How best to act and react in a given situation when applying empathy to those involved will greatly assist in ensuring the best outcome, and therefore less stress will be conjured. This has a positive effect not only for ourselves but for those around us.
We must practice listening, and really hearing what people in our lives have to say in order to practice true empathy, taking what they say from their point of view and avoid automatically referring the information back to ourselves and our own experiences. We need to be fully present and not thinking about anything other than what is being said, to truly connect with the other persons thoughts and remove personal bias; to truly embrace the unique personal comments that are being said. If we avoid being preoccupied with other thoughts or distractions we can invoke empathetic connections which provide an unrivalled closeness and reduce the risk of conflict.
Empathetic listening requires us to remove the self from the equation, how often do we actually fully engage in the other person in the room without instinctively reverting back to our own ideals, experiences and motives? Practice paying full attention. Empathy does not value a winner, but rather a greater level of understanding and connectivity.
Once we learn to take an empathetic stance as standard we open up a world of positivity, reduce the possibility of taking things personally, and recognise the beauty that comes with human variety, we get to see a lot more when we take off the self-absorbed blinkers!
Try these methods to help you see and hear more clearly and selflessly:
Repeat and rephrase
Show someone you have listened and heard them today by recreating the situation or expression they made to you in your own words. Show that you understand.
Show that person that you can understand them by noticing them and expressing your concern towards how they may be feeling. In other words check in with how you have understood what is going on and make sure you’re on the right track. This also applies to body language, if you empathise effectively you’ll be able to see when someone is physically telling something to the world as well as orally.
Ask people how they are, how their day was, how a particular moment in their day went, etc. And then of course, listen!
Well, not until you’ve really taken stock, had a moment to think and assessed a situation. Never snap into a reaction without slowing down your own emotions and tuning in to the other person. Recognise your fellow humans as continuously growing and evolving just as you are, remove judgement and practice compassion.
As Arthur P. Ciaramicoli states in his book The Stress Solution, “Know your personal biases and consciously reconsider your interpretations of events to help you reevaluate what’s actually happening in a given conflict or situation versus what you’re telling yourself at the time. By engaging your brain in this way, you can rewire it to be less emotionally triggered and to calm your nervous system”.
If we manage to learn to incorporate empathy into our every day communication skills we can build far more positive relationships with those around us, and in turn very effectively reduce stress. So let’s all try to focus in on other people, not just ourselves, and live free from the weight of misunderstanding and anxiety.
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