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I think it’s time we take a new look at empathy and rewrite its definition and what it sounds like.

The current popular version is that to be empathetic means you have to be able to feel what the other person is feeling. But I see a problem with this.

If another person is sharing their thoughts and emotions of deep pain, sorrow, frustration etc., how can you empathetically be there if you go down their rabbit hole of emotions? The answer is you can’t because you won’t be doing them (or yourself) any favors.

And here’s the hardest of all – how can you be empathetic if you disagree with the other person?

Empathy needs to be looked at through a different lens.

Empathy is not…
Agreeing with the other person, fixing what’s wrong or taking responsibility for what they’re experiencing.

Empathy (the way I teach it to clients) is…
Listening and giving the other person a safe space to tell their story and validating that you understand the emotions they are feeling.

The reason they need to tell their story and for you to be empathetic is so they feel heard and understood. It helps their healing process of what ever they are going through.

In this video I explain it more thoroughly.

So how do you show you understand their emotions if you disagree, or without taking on all the emotions they are feeling?

Simply and sincerely say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting, I know what that feels like, tell me more about what you’re going through”

That’s empathy. Keeping the spotlight on them so they know you’re there for them and letting them know that hurt (or any emotion they’re feeling) is valid.

As much as you might want to try and ‘fix’ things or try to make them feel better, saying, “You don’t need to feel hurt and here’s why…” or something along the line of, “Oh, but you’re not a failure” – those types of phrases don’t feel good to the other person. You’re disagreeing and invalidating their emotions. What they need is to be heard.

Empathy is simply listening & validating without going down the rabbit hole. Click To Tweet

This lighter version of how to be empathetic will make it a whole lot easier. Whether you agree with the other person or not, just allow them to share their story and let them know you’re there for them. That’s it.


Dr. Gayle Friend

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