Without exception and across the globe, people’s lives are disheveled. A major disruption has changed our way of life. Schools and businesses are closed; it’s uncertain when they will reopen. Many families are confined to their homes; it’s uncertain for how long. Entire countries are in lockdown. Those who are working at the front lines are risking their health to support others. Will this time make us more unified or divided? It all depends on empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand what others are feeling and experiencing, no matter who or where they live. The coronavirus is teaching us in a brief amount of time how critical social caring, social intelligence, and social responsibility are.
How Empathy Comforts and Heals
There’s no escaping the reality at hand. However, without empathy, a person will fail to be present to their own or their family’s pain or understand their impact. One without empathy will disregard the COVID19 guidelines and prioritize their own well-being over the welfare of others and the collective whole. Empathy acts as a bridge between ourselves and others, which allows us to stay safely connected in difficult times. Without this emotional intelligence quality, we underestimate our role and responsibility individually and collectively.Anxiety, fear, and panic are sweeping the minds and lives of many. This challenge before us is why empathy is so critical right now. Empathy assuages tension; it acts as a comforting agent. When a person feels understood and connected to others, the unrest and fear dissipate. A great example of caring is how teens out of school began delivering groceries to seniors. This is empathy in action!
Empathy Combats Isolation and Connects Us All
With quarantines in place, confinement can increase the feelings of isolation and disconnectedness unless we know others care and are watching out for us. Empathy holds the potential to connect us from afar.
As I was packing my office to set up my practice virtually from my home, I received a phone call from a woman (we’ll call Judy) who lived thousands of miles away. She was ridden with guilt and felt very alone. Judy told me right out of the gate that she thought she lacked empathy and her thoughtlessness had hurt her daughter’s feelings, who she was living with currently. She had overstepped by giving unwelcome parenting criticism; advice unasked-for can really shake a young mother.
The first thing Judy needed was self-compassion and a dose of empathy. She was harshly judging herself for crossing a line unintentionally. We all make mistakes. Especially at a highly stressful time, it’s natural to react without thinking and seek to control another’s behavior, especially if we see a better way.
Related reading: "How to Talk with Empathy—and What to Avoid!"
Their family is under tremendous duress, like so many others. The pandemic alarm is quite enough, but on top of health concerns, routines are disrupted. In this situation, the multi-generational living situation increased tension. We’re feeling helpless, and it’s incredibly difficult to feel so vulnerable at a time when we need to be strong. In these moments, empathy is a hero.
However, it’s hard to extend empathy or compassion to others without first providing it to ourselves. As I empathized and consoled Judy, she began to understand its healing power. It was like watching window shades raised and sunlight filling a room; in this case, the room was her heart.
Empathy Is Like Windex
It cuts through the grease and removes the dirt blocking a clear view of another’s perspective. Empathy clears the static that conflicting emotions can create. It allows us to extend compassion for their experience, emotions, and unique challenges, even when we might have approached a situation differently.
Related reading: “What Is Empathy and Why Is It Important?”
Empathy revealed so much unacknowledged pain. Judy missed her own home and daily rituals. She felt like a burden to her daughter and son-in-law. There was a continual irritation of varying parenting styles and the everyday strain of living in someone else’s home.
From her daughter’s perspective, there was worry about maintaining the health of her young child. Her daughter was most likely concerned for her mother and the enormous responsibility of having a high-risk senior to care for. And to add to the complexity, there was a subtle pressure of having a grandparent living with her and her husband for months. If that’s not enough, they were also adjusting to her husband working at home for the first time, neither exercising or having time alone or as a couple. And then there’s the fatigue of money challenges, too. Whoa!
Are you starting realize how much empathy is a hero? It dissolves the walls we build to protect ourselves and unearths tender feelings we didn't even know were buried.
After Judy felt heard and understood, she could then see her daughter’s viewpoint. Soon after, the next insecure feeling popped up. She said, “Now I can see how insensitive I was to criticize my daughter’s parenting, but now what? How do I mend the rift with my daughter?”
When a relationship experiences a rift, and we have hurt someone we love, a repair is needed. However, many people don’t know where to begin. These can be tense conversations, but if we can lean into the discomfort, the outcome is greater closeness and new understanding. We talked about different ways she could approach her daughter until one resonated and felt authentic to her.
Empathy in action!
Empathy is a comforting salve for any situation. It binds us together. It unifies our differences. This human expression heals hurts and builds bridges of compassion that cultivate more loving relationships and healthier communities.
If you struggle like Judy to understand another’s perspective or to empathize, it’s worth learning this tool and practicing until the skill becomes natural.
Related reading: “The Power of Empathy: More than a Band-Aid for the Heart”
Much of my coaching with individuals, couples, and parents, as well as my leadership consulting in companies is devoured by teaching empathy. So much so, that I created a self-coaching workbook, "Real Empathy, Real Solutions: 4 Keys for Unlocking the Power of Empathy." Now people can learn it inexpensively and in the comfort of their own homes.
There is no skill more worthy of your investment of time. Empathy holds power to transform the most strained relationship. Once mastered, it’s a lubricant that makes interactions smooth and peaceful. Working like Windex for the heart, it clears away the debris that blocks our love.
For personalized support, contact us at support@Heartmanity.com to learn more about our coaching programs.