Make their shoes fit
August 17, 2012 by
Categories: Relationships

We talk a lot on CI about empathy. And it’s not just us, it seems to be an important point anywhere you look:

The video, almost without knowing it, demonstrates two important components of empathy: cognitive empathy and affective empathy. Stick with me for just a minute here. Cognitive empathy is having an understanding, intellectually, of what someone is feeling. It is what most people think about when they think about empathy, and it is necessary in order to have the next component: affective empathy. Affective empathy is important as well. In fact, I would say that there are times when it is critical. Affective empathy is being able to experience the emotional experience of another person. Many people are able to have cognitive empathy. In fact, con artists are able to use it to their advantage. Fewer are able to experience affective empathy because for most people, it requires practice.

So when is it critical to have affective empathy? In our close relationships. Affective empathy can heal shame, mend emotional wounds, and bring relationships closer together.

The formula to have empathy is simple, achieving it is difficult. It actually requires practice. Currently in my experience of training therapists as well as my experience in working with couples, this is what I have found to work in developing empathy.

Image by hussey

  1. As elementary as it sounds, imagine how someone would feel in a particular situation. Or, another way of looking at it, imagine how would you feel if you were in a similar situation. You don’t necessarily have to have  a feeling word in mind, but just imagine how you would feel inside. This leads to cognitive empathy.
  2. Now, with an understanding of what the other person is feeling, think about a time when you felt something similar. It doesn’t have to be exact. Actually, it can’t be exact because everyone’s experience is different, so don’t even try to have it be exact. Get in touch with how you felt at that moment. Get in touch with how your body felt.

These steps require a lot of energy. We will also be able to be better at a step some times, but not at others. But the practice itself is important and rewarding.

How do you experience empathy? What are your steps, if you think about them?

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