Researcher Dr. Brené Brown’s video on sympathy versus empathy provides a clear picture of what it feels like when we reach out to others in a time of despair, and they react to us. She points out that empathy and sympathy are two very different things, where empathy “fuels connection” and sympathy “drives disconnection.”
Through her fun and interesting cartoon, she illustrates that we need others to feel with us, as opposed to the ever popular idea of providing a silver lining.
Often, we want to fix a situation in order to alleviate our own stress over the despairing individual’s emotions. This causes us to push away and invalidate their feelings. While this may stop their outward grieving, it drives disconnection and prevents healing. It causes an individual to stuff their true emotions and pretend they don’t exist, because they have now been shamed out of their reality.
As the video points out, empathy is the complete opposite. It requires four different elements:
1. Perspective taking
Perspective taking means that we are able to experience their loss as if it happened to us. We are not analyzing it from an outward perspective, but feeling it as if it were our own.
2. Staying out of judgement
To refrain from judgement, we have to be able to see the situation through the lens of emotion, rather than the lens of logic. To empathize, we must realize that emotions are what they are, regardless of the “facts.” Even if we don’t agree with the actions, we can understand the feeling.
3. Recognizing their emotions
To have the ability to recognize emotions, we need to be able to listen to what the grieving person is saying. If we jump right in without first understanding, we risk a disconnect where the upset individual will not feel recognized and understood.
4. Communicating you understand
Once you feel like you have a good understanding, it’s important to be able to communicate that you see and hear them. Sometimes this is simply a hug, and other times it’s born from reflective communication, where you repeat back to them what you feel they are saying in your own words. This brings a sense of relief, as they no longer feel alone.
As the video states, empathy is feeling with people. “Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better, is connection.”
Featured photo credit: RSA Shorts via youtu.be