Empathy is the quality of understanding the experiences and emotions of other people.
Even if you’ve never been where they are, you can relate to what they’re feeling: and you care.
Here are the top things highly empathetic people do differently.
1) They can see under the surface
First up in terms of the things highly empathetic people do differently is that they can see under the surface of a situation or person.
When everyone else thinks everything is fine, they can see the anxiety burning below the surface or the deep depression etched under somebody’s big smile.
The empathetic individual is very perceptive and notices details that many other people miss.
For this reason people in struggle or confusion are often drawn to the empathetic person and into opening up to them.
The empathetic person knows that many of people’s biggest struggles and issues go on beneath the surface and are hidden by social convention or by a mask that people put on in public or around casual acquaintances.
The empathetic person looks beneath that mask and invites people to take it off around them.
Fortunately for those seeking advice or even just somebody to hear them out, the empathetic person has a quality that’s sorely lacking in many people these days:
2) They actually listen
Secondly in terms of the things highly empathetic people do differently is that they actually listen.
The art of deep listening or active listening means that the empathetic person is paying full attention to those speaking with them and also really leaving space for the person speaking to express themselves.
They may ask questions or interrupt, but the empathetic individual is perceiving the deeper meaning behind the conversation and what it means.
The empathetic individual will listen between the lines to understand what somebody is saying exactly, why they’re saying it and what they want or don’t want.
Deep listening means you don’t just hear the physical words, you also hear the fears, desires, questions and emotions behind the words.
This deeper form of listening has dual benefits: it leaves others feeling truly heard, and it gives the empathetic person a real insight into the experiences of others.
3) They reserve judgment
At the same time as they’re really listening to what somebody else has to say, the empathetic individual is also reserving judgment.
This can be hard.
There are certain things we all see or hear that spark judgment, and this goes for highly empathetic people as well.
If the empathetic individual hears their friend admit to robbing someone or striking a romantic partner, for example, they won’t be able to help the instinctive judgment that springs up:
“That’s an awful and wrong thing to do.”
But the difference is that they give this judgment a bit more space, not to justify any wrong actions done, but to hear somebody out.
Somebody can be wrong and do wrong things and still be worthy of having somebody listen to what they say.
This can be especially true, for example, in terms of non-violent criminal offenders who are undergoing counseling and require a counselor who will hear them and refrain from immediately jumping to moral judgments.
A highly empathetic person feels themselves judging but doesn’t double down on it.
In other words, even if somebody is doing or saying something that they judge on the spot and initially, they give it time and space to let that person open up more.
They know that our initial judgments are often wrong and that many solutions and breakthroughs happen in the space where personal judgments are absent.
4) They try to understand
As much as they’re able to, another of the things highly empathetic people do differently is that they do really make an effort to understand.
There are people who pretend to be empathetic and say things like “I understand” just to comfort somebody.
But truly authentic people don’t say they understand when they don’t.
They check the openness of somebody to talk or explain something and ask questions if doing so seems appropriate or helpful.
They try to dig a bit deeper to find out what’s really happening and what somebody else is feeling.
What’s even better about highly empathetic people is that when they don’t understand they admit it.
Empathetic folks are extremely honest, because they know that false comfort is worse than no comfort.
Which brings me to the next point…
5) They admit when they don’t understand
This may be a bit counterintuitive, but one of the most important things highly empathetic people do differently is that they actually are honest when they don’t understand.
If they’ve never been in somebody’s position or experienced something like the other person is, they admit it.
They don’t try to always “get it” and be completely aware of exactly what somebody else is going through.
But the empathetic individual is willing to sit with difficult emotions and pain and understand the emotions you’re going through.
Even if they don’t understand everything about what’s causing those emotions, they can understand empathize with the emotions themselves, whether that’s feeling really alone, scared, confused or overwhelmed.
They might not get exactly what another person going through, but the highly empathetic person will try to relate and also be honest that they can’t know exactly what it’s like in somebody else’s shoes.
This honesty can be very helpful in building a bridge, because sometimes admitting that they don’t understand is the first step to being trusted by a hurting person in terms of opening up and being vulnerable.
6) They give more than they take
The next of the things highly empathetic people do differently is that they put others before themselves.
They hate to see other people suffering, especially when that suffering is through no fault of their own and is the result of tragic circumstances, accidents or misfortune.
The upside of the generosity of the empathetic person is that they are truly a giver and a selfless individual who has compassion for others.
This makes them a huge benefit in the life of other people and a major asset to any community.
The downside of the generosity of an empathetic person is that they can sometimes give so much and be so selfless that they end up neglecting their own needs and running into poor health, debt and difficulty.
They’re sometimes so busy looking out for others that they forget to look out for themselves.
7) They can’t look the other way
Many of us see suffering or pain and we look the other way.
Considering the hardship of others for too long can make us overwhelmed or depressed, so we unconsciously have blocks toward getting too close to the pain of others.
Empathetic people don’t have that option.
They can’t look the other way.
When they see pain and hardship their emotional response is to care and to seek to understand.
They don’t want to leave anybody behind or leave anybody feeling their experiences and their pain doesn’t matter.
Even suffering and tragedy in far off lands will trigger the empathetic response of such a person, as they seek to understand conflicts and tragedies far away and close to home.
8) They are able to defuse conflict
Next up in the things highly empathetic people do differently is that they are often skilled at being a mediator and defusing conflict.
Empathetic people make great diplomats, negotiators and family or marriage counselors.
The reason is that they are often able to act as a neutral third party who can see where fighting parties are coming from.
The empathetic person is able to validate the emotions and experiences of others without necessarily taking a side or stepping into it personally.
This incredibly valuable skill can help defuse some of the even most intense conflicts.
9) They need more time to rest up
Lastly in terms of the things highly empathetic people do differently is that they need a bit more time on their own than other folks.
Empathetic people are perceptive and absorb a lot of the energy from group situations and one-on-one interactions in a really intense way.
For this reason, they need more time to recharge.
This may give them the reputation of being something of a loner, but the reality is just that empaths need a bit more time to recover and recharge their energy after being around people a lot.
The empathetic worldview
The empathetic person doesn’t see the world as themselves and then everybody else.
They see the world as everybody being interconnected. What happens to me today could be happening to you in two years, or tomorrow.
What happens to you today could be my reality in a month, even though it seems so abstract mentally.
But the reality is that we’re all on this journey of life together, at least in the empathetic experience.
They see the truth in the statement “but for the grace of God there goes you or I.”
The empathetic person knows that joy and sorrow come to us all and that hard days today could become joy-filled days in the future, and vice versa.
They practice the Golden Rule on a daily basis because it’s just who they are, and they seek to bring others up and find themselves being strengthened in the process as well.