Empathy – Stuart Segall

When you have developed your heart and mind to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling, you are defining, and more importantly, understanding empathy.

When you empathize, in my visual, you become a tailor who weaves a magical thread connecting you to others. When you use it, a bi-product is you feel more connected to others. Primarily, when we empathize, we serve people by being compassionate people.  

Empathy is a special trait and frankly, few have it.  Few can take the time from what they want in life to find the time to do this. In my work, I read the lengthy clinical assessment and background of my clients before I see them each for the first time. More importantly, I make some time to ponder what it would feel like had I gone through that. This is probably my best asset as a counselor. (It is not my intellect nor my education for sure!)

Then, when they come in to counsel, I have them wait an extra minute or two in the waiting room so that I can touch the seat across my desk with my heart and remember when I needed a chair like that and there was none to be found.

Recognize the difference between sympathy and empathy. “Hang in there.”  “The sun will come out tomorrow.” “Well, I am sorry but we all get tests and trials.”   These statements are sincere perhaps but phrases don’t make people feel better.  As much we think it might, it doesn’t make a situation better. 

When we are going through a significant crisis with no easy fix, sympathy can often feel dismissive. Though the person didn’t mean to, it feels like they’re trying to make our problems seem not so bad or that we are somehow still lucky (“it could have been worse”).

The answer is, while all of those statements imply a sense of sympathy, and the person may be sincere in what they are expressing, they simply lack empathy. The recipient often does not feel that person is there for them with those words and they actually feel more alone with their problems than before you expressed those phrases.

Only through a connection with that person’s hurting heart can you then begin to make something better.  Stop, look, listen, but I beg you to just take a little more time to understand… and if you do, you can be such a tonic. We all just want to be understood.

Dock alongside someone……and maybe even sit with them in silence. “I care, I’m here and if you want to talk, I will listen with my ears and heart.”

The book of books proclaims in love and triumph; “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of God.” There is more for us to do than just acknowledging someone else’s suffering.   Showing sustained concern and support of others will stimulate and inspire their interest and love, too.

Stuart Segall lives about an hour north of Seattle.  He has spent most of his adult life counseling, encouraging, inspiring and uplifting others.

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