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Newest Member: ReasonableDoubt (44577)

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User Topic: Can you learn how to be empathetic?
krazy8516
♀ Member
Member # 40076
Default  Posted: 10:28 PM, September 2nd (Monday), 2013View ProfileEdit MessagePrivate MessageHomepage

I used to think I was a good listener. I'm here for anybody and everybody who needs an ear to talk to, or a shoulder to cry on. I thought that meant I was a good empathizer.

But after listening (really listening) to myself talk, I'm not so sure. I tend to talk about myself a lot. Like, if someone says, "Oh god, A, B & C is wrong with my life," I tend to respond with "I know what you mean about A & B, I'm the same way! I don't know about C, though. That's crazy!" For me, providing an example of how my life is similar is my attempt at empathizing. In other words, "You're not alone, I know exactly how you feel." But I'm starting to realize that my method makes it sound like it's about me. If someone comes to me with a problem, I shouldn't start talking about mine, right?

Also, when the subject of someone's complaint is beyond my control, I tend not to respond much at all. For example, my husband is constantly venting to me about work. The boss, the co-workers, the workload, etc. I acknowledge him, but ultimately shrug it off because I'm thinking, "Well what can I do about that? Nothing." Just because I can't do anything about it, doesn't mean he doesn't have a valid issue. I need to make sure I acknowledge and validate his feelings so he doesn't feel like I'm ignoring him.

Is this something I can learn to do? I don't want to force it, I want to feel it. If I can't, does that mean there's something wrong me and I need to work deeper than empathy before I can get there?


me: BW, 30
him: WH, 25
us: edging closer to R every day

married 2y, together 2.5y
1 beautiful daughter, 23m

"Someday soon, I'm going to put my life together; Win or lose, I'm starting over again."


Posts: 368 | Registered: Jul 2013 | From: Texas
Sad in AZ
♀ Member
Member # 24239
Default  Posted: 11:08 PM, September 2nd (Monday), 2013View ProfileEdit MessagePrivate MessageHomepage

I think you're confusing empathy with being a 'fixer' with being a KISA with being co-dependent.

Empathy means you can feel someone's pain; you don't necessarily want or need to help them, just let them know you understand.

Your husband's situation sounds like you want to be a fixer/KISA/co-dependent--you don't necessarily have to respond empathetically or even sympathetically to a chronic complainer; sometimes you have to give them a proverbial kick in the pants--to put up or shut up.


I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

Posts: 19948 | Registered: Jun 2009 | From: Upstate NY
krazy8516
♀ Member
Member # 40076
Default  Posted: 11:16 PM, September 2nd (Monday), 2013View ProfileEdit MessagePrivate MessageHomepage

I don't think I'm confusing those things... I know I want to be empathetic, and I'm pretty sure I'm not.

To clarify, my husband is not a chronic complainer. I was just using his complaint as an example of my response to a problem I cannot fix.

If you're suggesting I'm a "fixer", yes, you're probably right. If I can't "fix" the situation, I have nothing to add to the discussion. What's a KISA?

Empathy means you can feel someone's pain; you don't necessarily want or need to help them, just let them know you understand.

This is what I'm trying to do. I'm asking if it can be learned, or am I a lost cause...

ETA: I can see how this

"my husband is constantly venting to me about work."

suggests chronic complaining. Sorry, I'll choose my words more wisely. It's not as bad as I made it sound.

[This message edited by krazy8516 at 11:20 PM, September 2nd (Monday)]


me: BW, 30
him: WH, 25
us: edging closer to R every day

married 2y, together 2.5y
1 beautiful daughter, 23m

"Someday soon, I'm going to put my life together; Win or lose, I'm starting over again."


Posts: 368 | Registered: Jul 2013 | From: Texas
Sad in AZ
♀ Member
Member # 24239
Default  Posted: 12:05 AM, September 3rd (Tuesday), 2013View ProfileEdit MessagePrivate MessageHomepage

if someone says, "Oh god, A, B & C is wrong with my life," I tend to respond with "I know what you mean about A & B, I'm the same way! I don't know about C, though. That's crazy!" For me, providing an example of how my life is similar is my attempt at empathizing

That is very reasonable empathy. In other words, "I feel your pain."

In your husband's case, saying something like, "I can hear how miserable this makes you; I'm sorry you're having such a hard time at work" is empathetic. You don't necessarily have to equate his problems to your own situation, and it's probably not a good idea to feed into his complaints or suggest a way for him to fix it; letting him vent is enough.

BTW, a KISA is a Knight In Shining Armor-someone who always comes to the rescue. Not an enviable trait.


I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

Posts: 19948 | Registered: Jun 2009 | From: Upstate NY
GraceisGood
♀ Member
Member # 17686
Default  Posted: 7:53 AM, September 3rd (Tuesday), 2013View ProfileEdit MessagePrivate MessageHomepage

I "LIKE" to think we are all born with the capability to be empathetic (as well as kind, gentle, loving, etc), so of course I think you already have empathy, therefore all you need to do is cultivate and grow it some imo.

Of course I know life is not that simple.

Even if you have not experienced what another is going through empathy allows you to find common ground to relate to them and show them they are not alone imo. Empathy also helps to not judge, but to try and put oneself in anothers shoes.

I think one way to try and grow this way is to learn more about yourself and others (the general others), how we all think, process, perceive, etc, there are so many variables, etc, and learning about all the variables (and yet in those variables are similarities) your mind and heart can expand and empathy can grow.

Grace


We have a tendency to think the love offered us is a reflection of our worth and value.But in actuality,it's a reflection of the person that is giving it.We love out of who WE are-not because of who the receiver is.At least in terms of real love.TSMF

Posts: 3434 | Registered: Jan 2008 | From: how far the east is from the west
lost_in_toronto
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Member # 25395
Default  Posted: 8:08 AM, September 3rd (Tuesday), 2013View ProfileEdit MessagePrivate MessageHomepage

krazy, I have a tendency to respond to others in the same way that you describe. I relate my own life experiences, as a way to say that I understand and to reassure the other person that they are not alone.

I actually think that you are being empathetic; I do think that there are other (maybe not necessarily better) ways of showing empathy. One of the reasons that I have tried to change this automatic response is that I began to notice that once I had an idea of what the other person was telling me, I would start thinking about my response. Before they finished talking. Which actually made me NOT a good listener. I was a willing listener, but I wasn't always actually listening.

So I have over the years attempted to modify my response. Instead of relating my experience, I try to stay with the moment and really listen to the other person. If it takes me a moment to respond, that's okay. When my own experiences come to mind, I try not to relate the details of what happened. Instead, I use my emotional responses to that event to try and understand what the other person might be experiencing, and try to turn the discussion to that. For example, I might say - I experienced something similar, and it made me feel really anxious. Are you feeling any anxiety about this situation right now? And continue the conversation from there. If the other person asks about my situation, I will tell them; otherwise, I just use it as a jumping off point.

I don't think this makes me more empathetic at all. I have always been an empathetic person, from childhood. It's just a different way of relating that I find makes me a better listener; and I talk about myself a lot less now, too! Hope that helps.

[This message edited by lost_in_toronto at 8:09 AM, September 3rd (Tuesday)]


Me: BS/39
Him: WS/37
DDay: August 23, 2009
Together 14 years.
Reconciled.

Posts: 1652 | Registered: Sep 2009 | From: not toronto anymore
tushnurse
♀ Member
Member # 21101
Default  Posted: 8:50 AM, September 3rd (Tuesday), 2013View ProfileEdit MessagePrivate MessageHomepage

Absoluetly you can learn it. Heck way back in nursing school we did exercises in expressing empathy, so that we could help our patients know we understood where they were coming from.

One of the best ways to express empathy, especially when you cannot relate to it, it to repeat what they have said, and then further it with a question, so they really know they are being listened to. For example:

Spouse: "Today was bear at work, my boss was up a** about the dumbest things. I hate being treated like a kid."

YOU: Wow that sounds like it was stressful for you, Can you talk to him about it?

Spouse: No I can't talk to him about it, he is ALWAYS right.

YOU: It must be really hard to try your best in that situation. There is nothing I can do to change the situation, but if you want to compain I am listening, or if you want a hug here I am.

REally that's it. Share that even though you can't change or fix the situation, that you are hearing them, and offer your support.

If you are having trouble doing that, stop and put yourself in their shoes for a minute. This usually can help you empathize with what another person is feeling.


Me: FBS
Him: FWS
Kids: 15 & 17
Married for 22 years now, was 16 at the time. .
D-Day Sept 26 2008
Fully R'd, and Happy Happy Happy

Posts: 8066 | Registered: Oct 2008 | From: St. Louis
Amazonia
♀ Member
Member # 32810
Default  Posted: 2:56 PM, September 3rd (Tuesday), 2013View ProfileEdit MessagePrivate MessageHomepage

if someone says, "Oh god, A, B & C is wrong with my life," I tend to respond with "I know what you mean about A & B, I'm the same way! I don't know about C, though. That's crazy!"

This post is one I could have written, in fact, on a topic I've even been thinking about a LOT lately. I do what you said^^^ too.

I'm trying to focus more recently on refocusing my past experiences on the other person. "That sounds really similar to how I felt when I was going through my divorce. It can be really difficult to deal with; how are you doing with...." Instead of "oh my gosh I totally know how you feel! I remember this one time during my divorce when this thing happened and I felt all crazy and even now I still get upset when I think about it, because it was so terrible, and let me talk about me some more instead of letting you talk about how you feel!"

Part of it for me is that I am a natural story teller, and my stories are probably longer than they need to be so I am making a conscious effort in the last few months to not tell stories about myself when someone else is talking about themselves, especially when the story may feel related but would ultimately change the direction of the conversation. I will still mention that something happened, but not go into detail or talk about it, unless people ask. Surprisingly, some people do ask for more information and want to hear more of the stories; I think sometimes it's a distraction and sometimes people just like to learn that way, or whatever. But I let them lead, rather than forcing my stories about myself on them.

Ps I've always heard that sympathy (acknowledging and appreciating someone's emotions) can be learned but empathy (sharing someone's emotions) can't.

[This message edited by Amazonia at 2:57 PM, September 3rd (Tuesday)]


"You yourself deserve your love and affection as much as anybody in the universe." -Buddha
"Let's face it, life is a crap shoot." -Sad in AZ

Posts: 13651 | Registered: Jul 2011
krazy8516
♀ Member
Member # 40076
Default  Posted: 3:09 PM, September 3rd (Tuesday), 2013View ProfileEdit MessagePrivate MessageHomepage

I am a natural story teller

I think this is part of my problem as well. Unfortunately, it ends up sounding like everything is all about me. This is probably easier for me to change than

when the subject of someone's complaint is beyond my control, I tend not to respond much at all.

But I liked a few of the suggestions I saw:

"I can hear how miserable this makes you; I'm sorry you're having such a hard time at work"

and

Spouse: "Today was bear at work, my boss was up a** about the dumbest things. I hate being treated like a kid."

YOU: Wow that sounds like it was stressful for you, Can you talk to him about it?

Spouse: No I can't talk to him about it, he is ALWAYS right.

YOU: It must be really hard to try your best in that situation. There is nothing I can do to change the situation, but if you want to compain I am listening, or if you want a hug here I am.

this. Usually, I just shrug and keep quiet. The shrug is for "I dunno" and the silence is to show I'm listening in case they still want to talk. But I'm finding that people feel ignored this way. Just trying to learn a better response that acknowledges and validates their feelings... and realize that I don't need to have a answer for them.


me: BW, 30
him: WH, 25
us: edging closer to R every day

married 2y, together 2.5y
1 beautiful daughter, 23m

"Someday soon, I'm going to put my life together; Win or lose, I'm starting over again."


Posts: 368 | Registered: Jul 2013 | From: Texas
Topic Posts: 9

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