Empathy: Putting On Other People's Shoes

Empathy is often described as the capability to see, feel, and think as other people see, feel and think. Or, simply put, to be in someone else's shoes. 

As a lecturer and mental health worker, I cannot stress enough the importance of having empathy, especially if you want to succeed and survive in this harsh world. One of the main ingredients to be content in life is to be able to relate to others. In order for human to relate to their own kind, they have to understand about themselves first, and then they can understand others. 

Understanding and excepting yourself, the good and the bad, is not easy. All psychologists underwent some sort of processes in their education and training to get to know themselves a little bit better. To be able to help other people, you must first know how to help yourself. To be able to help yourself, you have to know yourself, including all your issues and unfinished business. 

Most people I know joked about how learning psychology is a way of treating yourself, not others. All psychology students must have issues to settle, so they choose psychology to get better, to heal themselves. Well, all humans I think have issues. I think psychology students have the advantage of getting to know themselves better, in a scientific environment. Being empathetic is also crucial for students who are considering to be a (clinical) psychologist. 

Empathy cannot be taught like math or science, but it's a social skill best learned first from parents, then from other people outside the family circle. The best way to cultivate empathy in children is to teach them manners. Having siblings and friends around also helped. I have a friend who has an only child who couldn't understand why he had to give up his right to a television remote so his younger cousins could watch Baby TV shows. Parents can also discuss a scenario with their children about how other people would think and feel if something unpleasant happened to them. "If other children took your doll without your permission, how would you feel?" 

Empathy also closely related with stress and pressure we face in life. In the face of difficulties, we often have to choose between feeling self-pity, or numbing our feelings all together. The fact is, we should be able to manage our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, so that we could cope but within safe boundaries. In other words, the best way of coping is when we're still be able to express ourselves, without losing ourselves. To be able to do this, people need to learn how to monitor the working of their inner self. Self-talk, meditate, pray, writing, is all form of reflection and introspection, to get to know yourself better. Adults who wanted to be more empathetic can also learn from their surroundings. Adopt a pet, tend a plant, visit nursing home, volunteering, and get to know other people from all sorts of background will give you some ideas and different angles in life. In other ways, try on as many shoes in life as you can.    

I'd like to share some excerpt from an article by Nando Pelusi, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. To read the rest of the article, you can go here.  

Empathy is an emotion that is essential for social life. Lack of empathy alienates others. When you're unempathetic, it's hard to understand what someone else is feeling and impossible to display kindness. Understanding and kindness are two key ingredients in social relations. Empathy not only underlies social relations; it is critical to self-regulation.

So, let's try on other people's shoes, shall we?

Picture was borrowed from here.


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