Learning how to become empathetic rather than judgmental is a skill that takes practice and patience. It’s much easier to be negative and cynical, particularly with those we disagree with or have resentments against.
However, learning to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is the only way to release anger and find forgiveness, even if we don’t want to.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to see the world through another person’s perspective. Its purpose is to understand others’ actions and feelings so we can then adjust our feelings and actions. It isn’t the same as kindness as it doesn’t always require interacting with another person. It also doesn’t imply that you have to agree with that person’s choices.
Empathy is a type of compassion that allows us to say “I understand where that person is coming from given his/her circumstances. I might not act the same way, nor do I agree with those actions, but they make sense to me.”
How Does a Lack of Empathy Hurt Us?
While the exact opposite of empathy is apathy, that isn’t the word we usually think of when we encounter a non-empathetic individual. Typically, individuals who aren’t empathetic tend to be close-minded, intolerant, self-righteous, and judgmental.
It may be easier to be empathetic with friends and close family members, but it’s much harder to be empathetic with people we cannot stand.
The problem with being overly judgmental is that it leads to hatred and resentment. These two emotions eat away at our souls and cause us to become bitter. While you don’t have to become friends with someone you empathize with, you can expand your worldview and release resentment by seeing things from their perspective.
How to Become Empathetic
Learning to become more empathetic will take time and practice. It requires taking a set of actions and using certain thinking patterns that may feel uncomfortable. Best practices include:
1. Become More Curious
Highly empathetic individuals tend to be curious about strangers and those around them. They want to get to know people and understand what makes them tick. Curiosity improves empathy because we understand different worldviews and thinking patterns. When we don’t know people intimately, it’s easier to judge them and jump to conclusions.
2. See People as Individuals
Seeing people through a collectivist mindset decreases our empathy because we associate everyone in a certain group with certain characteristics. For example, if we had a bad experience with a person at a church, we may assume that everyone at church is hypocritical and out to get us. This can narrow our worldview and cause us to become more prejudiced without first getting to know people on an individual level.
3. Gain Direct Experience
When we only go certain places, see certain people, and do certain things, we become less empathetic. If you struggle to understand why someone would want to be friends with another person, ask that other person out for coffee. Get to know and understand that person, rather than judge your friend’s choices due to preconceived biases. Direct experience will improve our empathy because we have more understanding of the way other people live their lives and why they make the choices they do.
4. Become a Better Listener
Listening to other people is more challenging than we think. We tend to start thinking about what we want to say before they finish, effectively missing out on the entire speech. We also make judgments before the person is finished, sometimes almost subconsciously. Start practicing mindfulness and commit to truly listening to someone before reacting. This will help you gain an understanding of what that person is going through before rushing to judgment.
Are you overly judgmental or angry? Do you have trouble being empathetic with others? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.