Pain, hardship, and disappointment are the seeds of empathy and understanding. When we are born, the world truly revolves around us. We cry and our parents feed us. We whimper and our soiled diapers get changed. We bellow and our parents comfort us. We become the center of the universe, at least in our parent’s world. We remain so until we reach the age when we realize that the world is greater than the small space in which we inhabit. As our world expands, we must interact with other people. We must understand life from their perspective. We must integrate our perspective of life with the perspectives of the people we meet throughout our lives. Integration is difficult because we only know the world through a singular perspective – our own.
Empathy is the means by which we understand life from another person’s perspective. Empathy is not possible unless we share the same or similar experiences as other people do. We cannot understand hurt until we hurt. We cannot understand disappointment until we are disappointed. We cannot understand sorrow until we feel sorrow.
The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit. We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.Barack Obama
If we see a person fall and scrape their knees, we can empathize with that person because we fell and scraped our knees in the past. We know the sorrow of death when others lose a relative or friend because we too have lost loved ones and know how we felt. Our personal experiences allow us to extend those feelings to the person who experienced or is experiencing the same or similar event.
Unfortunately, in order to develop true empathy, we must suffer the same pain and hardship as do the people we empathize with. If we do not suffer the same pain and hardship, we have nothing against which to judge other people’s pain and hardships. The older we get the more empathic we become because we have amassed a long list of pain, hardships, and disappointments.
Being empathetic can take a toll on you. While it may get overwhelming here are a few things that help me:
- Take care of yourself first.
- Focus on what you can control. Try not to dwell on the things you can’t.
- You deserve to be taken care of as much as others.
- Love yourself, value yourself, and give yourself credit for what you’ve achieved.
- Taking care of one’s own emotional needs is not a selfish act.
- When you’re struggling, others may not be suffering as much as you perceive.