September 21, 2023

Empathy is Not a Damn Buzzword.

Empathy is sacred.

Misplaced in a sea of nouns, empathy is an exceptional verb.

Empathy blooms from a quiet, intimate place of mindful listening. It requires intention, patience, and practice. Lots of practice.

There are no shortcuts to acquiring it.

My fellow empaths, deeply feeling everything and everyone on the planet, naturally possess empathy, and yet there is still room for cultivation and greater practice.

Learning how to listen while simultaneously quelling our internal chatter and external distractions takes tremendous effort.

During conversation, we are often quick to respond with “I know how you feel,” and then abruptly transition into our own story. Not terribly healing or validating for the other human.

And we actually don’t know how anyone else feels. Our feelings are our very own.

Yes, we share universal sorrows and events. But our experiences are uniquely ours, distilled through a one-of-a-kind mind.

So, how does one acquire the skill of empathy?

There’s a simple, yet transformative little therapy technique that I adore teaching:

Active listening.

Like with anything unfamiliar, it may feel silly and awkward at first. It may be hard and annoying. Our critical inner voice may yell, “This is dumb!”

Gently assure that inner critic that this will be beneficial to all internal parties involved.

Active listening is just as it sounds.

We attempt to listen actively, staying focused and engaged in the speaker’s experience. We do our best to keep our monkey brains relaxed and focused, and we can ask for clarification along the way if we disconnect from their words.

And we absolutely will have moments of disconnect as our chaotic brains try to make sense of an external world through our internal filters.

That’s okay.

Practicing kindness and patience with ourselves leads to greater capacity for kindness and patience with others. The heavier the topic, the slower and more intentional we are with our listening.

We allow space.

We don’t rush the speaker.

We allow healing through compassionate connection.

We make sure the speaker fully completes their story before we shift the conversation.

We may ask what they need from us.

We do our best not to offer unsolicited advice.

We say “I don’t know what to say” if we don’t know what to say.

We don’t assume we know what they need. (Maybe they need a hug, maybe they want advice, maybe they want to listen for a while—but we ask.)

We ask permission to share, especially if the topic is vulnerable and raw.

When we strengthen our skill of empathy, we realize that our presence—our fully showing up, our action—is far more powerful than our words.

And when others feel heard and understood, a ripple effect is born. Others have more heart space to listen, to be present, because they have experienced it.

When empathy is deeply understood and practiced, we are teaching through example. We impact others by shifting our own behaviors, not just our words.

Empathy is so much more than a buzzword.

It is a truly transformative elixir in the intricate dance of communication.

And I cannot recommend its enchanting effects highly enough.

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