Whether your best friend just got dumped, your boyfriend failed a major test or your mom lost her job, empathy allows you to imagine what someone else is going through and feel for their struggling situations. While showing empathy typically revolves around intense emotions, letting your own feelings get out of control or lacking authenticity can have the opposite effect and undermine your friendship or romantic relationship.
Understanding vs. Assuming
Being empathetic means that you can imagine and understand what someone else is feeling, according to the article "Emotional Intelligence" on the TeensHealth website. Putting yourself in your friend's, girlfriend's or family member's place doesn't mean that you should make assumptions. While it might seem like imagining and assuming are one in the same, they aren't. For example, if your friend's girl cheated on him, but you've never been in the same situation, don't jump to assume that he's heart-broken. Playing the sad card in a situation when he's angry may make him misdirect his emotions at you.
Empathy and Impatience
You started out feeling empathy for your friend as she cried on your shoulder, but now you're tired of her whining. Empathy is a way to show your friend how much you care about her and her feelings . If you want to continue on with your relationship, showing an impatient-looking face when you should be empathetic won't help you out. While you might not agree with your loved one's feelings or you think that you can't keep comforting her, acting impatient will add insult to injury and make her feel insignificant or unimportant in your eyes.
Loss of Attention
In order to show an appropriate amount of empathy, you need to pay attention to the person who needs your care. Looking -- and feeling -- distracted when your friend or partner needs an empathetic ear is always a no-go, according to author and consultant David F. Swink in his article "I Don't Feel Your Pain: Overcoming Roadblocks to Empathy" on the Psychology Today website. For example, if your friend is feeling miserable about getting fired from his first job, don't pay more attention to your cellphone than to him. This gives a clear impression that you don't care or that he's not near the top of your list of priorities.
Focusing on Yourself
Your friend is telling you that the love of her life just broke up with her, but all you can think about is that you stained your shirt at lunch. Everyone has a bad day now and then. For example, mentally compare the differences between getting dumped and staining a shirt. It's clear that your friend's needs outweigh your own minor problem. When showing empathy, you should never focus on your own pain, according to coach and consultant Lisa A. Miles in her article "Talking to Others: How to Be Empathetic and Effective" on the PsychCentral website. Even though you might have a problem of your own, sometimes you need to shift the focus off of yourself and onto a friend in need.
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