The value of empathy in everyday life

pt Health Occupational Therapy

Have you ever felt disconnected from others? Had trouble looking at something from someone else’s point of view? Or do you find yourself in conflict with friends, family, or coworkers at times? You are not alone! Practicing empathy may be helpful – read on to learn why and how to practice empathy with yourself and others.

Research shows practicing empathy can:

  • be beneficial for mental health
  • improve self-esteem and our relationship with oneself and others
  • improve communication skills
  • decrease risk of burnout
  • help prevent conflict
  • enhance work performance
  • lead to better satisfaction at work and home

Empathy vs. sympathy

While the terms empathy and sympathy are closely related, they should not be used interchangeably. Sympathy is understanding someone’s emotions through our own perspective, whereas, empathy is understanding and feeling someone’s emotions through their perspective.

Ways to practice self-empathy

Self-empathy is accepting that you are deserving of the understanding and compassion that you give to others.

Forgive yourself

Practice forgiveness through reminding yourself that you are human and make mistakes.

Let go of self-judgment 

Being judgmental of yourself can look like only focusing on your negative attributes and allowing this to influence the way you view yourself. To let go of self-judgement, try to think and speak about yourself in positive ways.

Positive self-talk 

If you wouldn’t say something to a friend or family member, refrain from saying it to yourself. You can write down a list of positive affirmations (for example, “I am confident”) and next time you find yourself feeling down, read aloud 3 affirmations from your list.

Don’t compare yourself to others

Understanding that we are all on our own journey, which cannot be compared or measured in relation to others.

Ways to show empathy to others

Be curious and willing to listen

Allow others to feel comfortable sharing their story. This can include an act as simple as asking someone how they are or how they have been feeling. Remember, we don’t have to always have the answers – even a response like “I feel your frustration and I can understand where you are coming from” can go a long way.

Practice active listening

Practice active listening through welcoming language, body language, and facial expressions. Next time you are listening to someone, think of the acronym “SEND” to ensure you are SENDing the right message:

  • S – Smile
  • E – Eye contact
  • N – No interrupting
  • D – Don’t cross your arms or legs

Withhold judgment and biases 

Try and let go of any preconceived notions or ideas of others when speaking with people who may be different from yourself.

Be open to others’ point of view 

To understand and feel the emotions of others, it is important to take on their perspectives, even if we do not necessarily agree with them. This involves being open to viewing a situation from someone else’s point of view.

Listen before speaking 

Trying to formulate our own thoughts and responses while someone else is speaking can be distracting. Listen, process, take a moment to think, then respond appropriately.

Being empathetic to yourself and others may be challenging, and it takes practice. However, practicing empathy is an important skill to work on.

Engaging in self-empathy improves our inner confidence, and treating others in an empathetic way leads to improved social relationships and connections. You can begin by asking yourself if you practice empathy in your daily interactions. If not, how can you start?

This blog originally appeared on Lifemark.ca and was written by Elise Kopman & Reem Al-Kas, 2nd year OT students at University of Western Ontario.

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