Have you ever thought, “How do some people find it easy to understand others’ emotions?”
The thing is: Empathy is not easy. It’s something that a lot of us struggle with everyday. But definitely, it is something that can help us show more of our humanity.
If you’re someone who’s having a hard time trying to empathize with other people, then best keep reading!
Because in this article, we’ll be talking about the five actionable tips you can do to develop empathy.
1) Read more books
One of the best ways to start developing empathy is through reading.
Contrary to what most people know, reading doesn’t necessarily make one a loner. In fact, one study at Harvard shows that reading fiction can actually teach someone to feel for others more easily!
How, you ask? Well, reading fiction requires you to see the world through the experiences of the protagonist and to connect with the other characters just as the main character does.
When this happens, you’re basically living the main character’s life through the pages.
When you read a horror novel, you feel all the protagonist’s fears and will to survive. In a romantic novel, you’ll root for the two main characters to end up together. In a mystery novel, you’ll try to dig deep into the mind of each character, trying to figure out who the killer is.
This is a great mental exercise that not only affects the part of your brain that stores information.
Moreover, it will trigger your brain to feel for these fictional personalities– crying with them, getting angry with them… without actually experiencing the same things.
Young adult novels are particularly good for developing empathy. You know why? Because this demographic is so good with feeling for others and having their personal advocacies.
But fiction is not the only route into empathetic reading. If you want something closer to real life, you can try reading nonfiction books– specifically, memoirs and personal essays.
These stories incorporate the same techniques as fiction. They use drama, plot, and conflict to tell a factual story.
And if you can Google what each character in the book looks like, then you’ll be able to picture them in your head better!
2) Talk to new people
If you’re the kind of person who would rather get out and about instead of sitting in a room reading, then consider talking to new people.
This is a great way to develop empathy for people who are more extroverted in nature.
You may think, “I’m already outgoing already; why would I need to do this in order to develop empathy?”
The simple answer is: Meeting new people triggers your brain to pay attention.
When you meet someone new, you get either excited, anxious, or both.
What excitement and anxiety have in common is adrenaline. And studies show that a healthy dose of adrenaline helps in absorbing information.
So, basically, when you’re meeting new people, you tend to remember more about what they say, how you present yourself, and the entire experience you both have.
You might not immediately feel empathetic about something a new person says to you. But since it will be stored in your memory, your mind will unconsciously process it some other time.
This, more often than not, can help you understand and feel for other people.
So, the next time you’re feeling a bit more out of touch with your empathy, try meeting someone new. Make friends. Introduce yourself to the couple sitting beside you at the baseball game. Greet someone you pass by in the streets.
In no time, you’ll be able to put yourself in their shoes, too!
3) Take care of a person for some time
If you want a deeper way to empathize with someone, then offering to take care of them will definitely do the job.
Caring is such a specific, intimate act that helps us understand not just the thoughts, but also the history of the person we’re taking care of.
Do you have a grandparent who’s bedridden? Maybe a friend who is sick or going through heartbreak? Or maybe, one of your drinking buddies is going through a divorce.
Offer to take care of them for some time!
Maybe you can take them in for a couple of days or visit them every now and then in their home. Maybe you can ask them to hang out with you regularly or update you about how they’re dealing with their problems.
These things will help you deepen your connections with others. There is something about the selfless act of caring that lets you get to know someone more intimately.
When doing this, though, it’s important to remember how much energy you can spend caring for someone else.
Because the truth is, it can be a little draining on your social and emotional battery. As with most things, spending more than what you can is detrimental to your overall well-being.
So, if you’re planning on doing this strategy, make sure you have time, energy, and other resources to spare.
4) Join a cause
Sometimes, we forget that for a lot of people, life isn’t as easy as it is for us. We watch the news and don’t feel much for the violence we see on our screens.
Naturally, when things are going great for us, a gap forms between us and the people in our communities who are more in need. We start to forget how to sympathize with them to the point where we almost don’t care that there are bad things happening to others.
When this happens to you, maybe it’s time to involve yourself in a meaningful cause!
See, joining a good cause can expose us to the different realities of different people.
The key here is to find a cause that resonates with us.
Do you have a relative who suffered from a terminal illness years ago? Maybe you have a coworker who got mistreated for being queer? Or maybe you yourself are someone who survived a war in another country?
Then try looking up organizations that help people who’ve gone through something similar.
Try to take this one step at a time. Start with a cause that’s close to your own experience, then work your way to something in connection to that.
Slowly, you’ll be able to expand your empathetic horizon to causes that are greater and more pressing.
And who knows? You might even serve as the voice of these groups you’re advocating for.
5) Be more vulnerable
What each of the tips before has in common is vulnerability.
It’s only when we’re vulnerable that we get to feel for someone else. As one of my favorite authors, Jandy Nelson, said, “A broken heart is an open heart.”
This means that for us to open ourselves to other people, we have to tap into the part of us that experienced a certain kind of hurt.
That’s why people who’ve been through a lot of trauma are the ones who know how best to stand up for others.
While trauma is not a necessary step to developing empathy, certainly being open about ourselves to others will compel us to pour out our real emotions. And this will invite others to do the same.
When you and another person are comfortable enough to share things with each other, you’ll both know how best to empathize.
So try to take away some of your armor every once in a while. You’ll be surprised at what truths you’ll discover by being vulnerable.
Why is empathy important?
Empathy is important because it grounds us in reality.
In a world where we are always encouraged to get ahead of others, choosing to keep pace with them is the greatest act of support.
Empathy is also what builds communities.
How, you ask? Easily, by sharing the truths and burdens so that the weight of something doesn’t bring us down. When we know how to feel for other people, we get to understand where they’re coming from.
And when that happens, we not only know what bad things happened to them. Instead, we are subconsciously made aware of ways we can fix the broken things in the world.
Empathy is the gateway to peace, really. Because when we empathize, we take other people’s perspectives, compare them with our own experiences, and figure out a way to offer solutions to existing problems.
When we do that, we empower others to do the same to the people around them.
Remember: It’s not brains or wealth which influence the great thinkers of any generation. It’s their empathy towards other people.