Stepping into Empathy

Ah yes, the beauty of stepping into empathy.

My friend posted this video from the Cleveland Clinic on Facebook this week and I thought it was a beautiful reminder of how we are all dealing with something and how the world is a more beautiful place when empathy is a part of it.

So many times we go about our day so focused on our own internal process that we forget everyone else is dealing with their "stuff," too. It's a good reminder for all of us, as we interact, to consider the journey of those around us and create space for empathy in our lives.

The beautiful message of empathy is "me, too" versus sympathy's message of "poor you."

(Thanks to Brene Brown for this clarification). In this way, we can identify with the struggle in another and sit with them in it.

Thanks to the teachings of the lovely and courageous Brene Brown, I've learned that bringing sympathy to the table in an interaction allows me to stay distant and requires no risk on my part, because it separates me from you. I can easily say, "poor you," and stay completely unengaged with you and with my own emotions. If instead I bring empathy to the table, I am sitting next to you with an open heart, looking at you and saying, "me, too."

I'd like to remind you that as you bring empathy to the world, and engage with others, that empathy does not ask that you over-identify with the other person's process. It is not your job, nor is it helpful, to "fix" or to embody the struggle of another. Empathy's only requirement is that you take a moment to open your heart and see the struggle in another, to engage with them, and to let them know they are not alone.

In healthcare, often sympathy is all too pervasive while empathy is a whole world just being discovered. As health care providers, I believe the health of and connection with our patients could see a vast improvement if we took a little more time to be empathetic. This can look a number of ways, depending on the provider, patient, and the context of the situation.

I'd like to bring in another idea to the empathy discussion: cultural safety.

Keeping in mind that you are your own culture (a set of beliefs, filters, life experiences) is important when engaging in empathy.

You will experience and process a life situation much differently than I do based on our differing cultures/filters/set of beliefs.

So, when you do practice with empathy, remember that "me, too" does not mean, "I know exactly how you feel, and ohmygod you must be FREAKING OUT!" You can, however, open your heart and identify the core emotion being experienced in another (sadness, disappointment, shame, grief, etc.), and let them know you've felt that, too. The expression or experience of that core emotion however, is what differs between individuals. Trying to be empathetic while expressing exactly how your own experience with that emotion played out for you runs the risk of not allowing the individual to have his/her own experience.

The more you are aware of your own culture (we call this the art of reflection in cultural safety) and how that culture works as a lens/filter that affects your expression and life experience, the more you can truly be aware of what "stuff" you are bringing to an empathetic interaction.

Being with, not being for, another individual is the art and true beauty of empathy.

These are just things to consider as you bravely step into the world as an empathetic being. Stepping into empathy bonds us and brings us hope and healing.

With Much Love,


Photo Credit.