Empathy is quite certainly enjoying it’s day in the sun.
It’s the trending trait, with everyone rallying around and talking about how important it is. You can find online quizzes, articles, books and more around this current hot topic.
All for good reason, of course. Empathy is what connects us to each other. It helps us feel seen and relate to the experiences of others.
Empathy is, quite simply, the ability to understand the feelings of another. It goes a step further than sympathy, which is merely caring for, and feeling sorrow for, another’s pain.
Even if you haven’t been through the exact situation someone is sharing with you, you can, quite likely relate to the emotion the other is feeling. That, in short, is empathy.
The Empathy Express
My dad died in January. With that, of course, comes an abundance of emotions, some expected, others not so much.
One emotion I wasn’t necessarily expecting to experience was empathy.
Before my dad died, I was able to imagine what a friend who lost a parent was going through. I could extrapolate and guess and maybe not even be far off. I could, if I was lucky and had some degree of emotional maturity, be a comfort to them.
But now? Now I get it. I get it in a bone deep way that, no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t access before.
Because, here’s the thing: we gain empathy for others through the hard things we ourselves go through.
I have more empathy now for people who have lost a parent than I did before. And, yes, you don’t have to go through exactly what another has gone through to have empathy for them.
Someone else doesn’t have to have had a parent die to be able to empathize with me. Just having been through the grieving process for someone or something is enough for empathy to take place.
But this is the point: the hard things we go through and the hard emotions we experience, such as grief, sadness, anger, overwhelm or pain of any kind are what will help us empathize with others feeling those same emotions.
The same, by the way, goes for positive emotions, as well.
I found out yesterday that a friend just lost her mom.
I plan to reach out to her today to share my condolences.
Would I have done the same if I hadn’t recently lost a parent?
Probably. But now, having gone through the experience myself, I can empathize in a way I wouldn’t have been able to before.
There’s a comfort in that. Grief is complex but being able to now say to someone “I understand” and meaning it, gives meaning to my grief.
And, sometimes, that’s all we can ask for.