What is empathy?

Think back to the last time a friend told you that they had been struggling with a bad back. Or the last time your partner told you that he or she was feeling exhausted. What did you do? What did you say? Did you show empathy? Or do you just think you did?

Believe it or not, sharing the story of your own bad back is not showing empathy. Insisting that your friend sees your fabulous physiotherapist or chiropractor is not showing empathy. Telling your partner that you know how they feel because you’re also feeling exhausted is not empathic.

To be truly empathic, you need to take yourself right out of the equation. You need to imagine what it would be like to be your friend or your partner in their situation. It’s not putting yourself in their shoes. It’s imagining what it’s like for them to walk around in their shoes.

Listen to your friend. Hear what it’s like for them to live with a bad back. Ask them how they’re coping. Ask them what helps their pain. If they seek your opinion, give it. But only after you have expressed some empathy by saying something like: That must be really hard for you.

Listen to your partner. Hear why they’re so exhausted. Empathise by saying that you can see and hear how shattered they are. If you give your partner some empathy, it will often come flowing back to you. They will be far more likely to acknowledge the load you’re carrying if you have acknowledged theirs.

Empathy is often the missing ingredient. Add a pinch everyday and every relationship in your life will be sweeter.

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