Teach Yourself to be More Understanding and Empathetic
“Everyone that hasn’t suffered a brain injury or mental illness is capable of empathy.” – – so I read.
But some of our children DO have brain issues that impact their ability to show empathy. And it seems so easy to spot in them, and even easier to become exasperated at their apparent lack of empathy.
I’m guilty of this.
And so I end up being “the pot calling the kettle black” with my own lack of empathy.
Some of us are in touch with this ability, while others could use a little practice. If you’ve found yourself exasperated over your child’s un-empathetic behaviors, how about taking an empathy self-audit?
What is empathy?
Empathy is the concern for the welfare of others. It’s the ability to detect or predict the emotions and thoughts of others.
It’s easy to see why this would be a handy skill to master. Empathy has an impact on your relationships. This is true for both your personal and professional relationships. Empathy can make your life easier and more fulfilling at home and at work!
It’s an ability that our children need to become competent in. And our modeling empathy to and before them is crucial.
So after your empathy self-audit if you find you need an empathy tune-up, I have some empathy tune-up tips for you.
Empathy Tune-Up Tips
Try these tips to increase your empathy for your child/children and others:
1. Avoid making assumptions.
Your view of the world is limited. Your experiences are just your own. Others have lived a different reality.
If you’re from a well-off and intact family from the United States, you don’t really have a clue what it’s like to deal with the weight of growing up in an orphanage in Ukraine. If you’ve never lost a job, avoid assuming that you know exactly what that experience feels like.
Making assumptions only gets in the way of developing empathy. When you catch yourself making assumptions, question them. Prove your assumptions to be true or false before making any decisions.
2. Ask questions.
One way to understand others is to ask questions. Develop a genuine interest in them. Enhancing your communication skills assists your ability to connect with, and to understand, other people. Ask open ended questions.
3. Listen intently.
I used to think I was a great listener! But I’ve found myself only half-heartedly listening and dividing my attention with my kids. Yikes! What types of messages does that send to them?
I’ve also been trying to help a couple of my children learn to pause and wait for my attention before they start blasting out their message and getting frustrated at me then. If they want understanding they need to learn to wait for my attention. Plus that’s a clue to me to give it.
Listening intently is related to asking questions and avoiding assumptions. We also seek to understand the emotions that the other person is feeling. Asking questions and then listening to the answers is a pivotal part of creating empathy within yourself.
4. Learn about a group of people outside of your experience.
You could learn about people of another religious background or culture. If you’ve never been poor, you might learn about the homeless and how they live day to day. Read books and talk to people. Strive to understand what it would be like to be born a part of a particular group.
5. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
One way to relate better to others is to imagine yourself in the same situation. This can be painful. It’s not enjoyable to imagine that your spouse has died or that you’re completely out of money. Ask yourself, “What would I be thinking and feeling if I were in this situation?” Just asking yourself this question is the biggest step you can take toward being empathetic.
6. Be present. Give your undivided attention to others. You can’t be empathetic if you’re thinking about something else. This goes along with number three above, but extends to family activities, meals, meetings, etc. We are so tempted to multitask and it’s an even bigger temptation these days with our smartphones and other tech at our fingertips constantly.
Related: Be interested.
You’re not as good at hiding your disinterest as you think! You miss most of the information, verbal and non-verbal, communicated to you if you’re not paying attention.
7. Have more meaningful conversations.
Talking about sports is fine, but it’s not a deep and personal topic. One way to get the ball rolling is to talk about something that’s important to you. The more you share, the more you’re going to receive in return. Be open, and others will be more open with you. (Maybe.)
But don’t forget to give the other person a turn. One sided conversations are counterproductive to mutuality and connectedness.
Empathy is an important skill. It can greatly increase the ability to communicate and connect with others. Being able to understand their feelings and thoughts will boost your rapport with them, whether it’s your children, your spouse, or those outside the household. Enhance your relationships with empathy and you’ll benefit in many ways. And you’ll be modeling this important skill to your child or children!
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”Romans 12:15
First Things First
When our more basic needs are unmet is can put the brakes on empathy. If you feel unable to access your empathy or otherwise feel like you are missing out on basic needs such as safety I implore you to seek the help YOU need, putting your oxygen mask on first as it were, to address those needs and free up mental and emotional space for empathy.
Find More with Facebook Group
If this post is helpful to you you might like to join the small but growing Yesterday’s Orphan Facebook group for parents and caregivers. The group is free to join but closed — members only.
Posts in the group touch on a variety of topics that may affect you if you are caring for a child with a history of early childhood traumatic parental loss and possibly other serious trauma in their background.