It’s difficult to step outside of ourselves and our own wants and needs to be able to understand those of others. Empathy typically isn’t something that comes naturally — we have to foster it in ourselves, our children and those around us. The thing is, it really can make or break a situation, so spending the time and effort to hone your empathetic skills can bring about some truly amazing and positive changes in your life.
Practice What You Preach
A client recently told me of an issue she’d been facing regularly at home. Her husband works in a high-level corporate job for a major bank. He is also an avid runner and has been training for a marathon — something that takes a lot of time and dedication. Most of the time he has a fairly normal 9–5 schedule, but there are long stretches when he will be all-consumed with work. During these times, between work and the training, he doesn’t have much time to share with his family.
“Sarah” was supportive at first, but found herself growing more and more resentful of the time her husband was spending on work and running. The tipping point for her was when he worked through date night — the one night of the week they have set aside for just the two of them. She was furious and withdrew. It wasn’t until she found herself telling their teenaged daughter to cut him some slack (when he was unable to give his daughter a ride to a friend’s house) that “Sarah” realized that she, too, needed to go easy and try to put herself in his shoes.
Give a Little Bit, Gain a Lot
There had been many times when “Sarah” was faced with deadlines at work and would have to put other things — including her husband — on the back burner. He never got upset or resentful, and would even often step in and make dinner or bring her a cup of coffee. She started realizing just how hypocritical she was being.
She said the change was almost instantaneous after she went in and simply said, “I can see you’re having a rough time balancing everything. I know how it feels to be overwhelmed. I’m sorry I’ve been so hard on you.” After those few words he started coming downstairs for his breaks, seeking her out for a quick conversation or to go for a walk around the block. He even skipped one of his training runs and surprised her with a picnic at their favorite park!
Sometimes we need to get out of our own heads. We need to recognize and try to show some empathy to those that seem to be falling short. Instead of being annoyed with the co-worker that keeps breaking down, try to sit down and find out what’s going on. Have a sick friend or relative? Don’t avoid them — show them you understand they’re hurting and let them know you’re there to prop them up. A cut-throat attitude has its time and place, but not everywhere and in every situation.
If we’d show more empathy and less apathy, our world would be a much kinder, more cohesive place to be for everyone!