Empathy, It’s Not What You Think (The Real Version)

Recently, I listened to a friend’s mini-rant on people who say they feel what others feel when they really don’t. This is my response:

I’ve been told I’m empathetic, but I’m not an empath. Part of being empathetic is acknowledging I don’t feel what you feel.

People (including me) mess this up all the time when they’re trying (and failing) to be empathetic with people who have had similar experiences.

They say, “I lost my [wife/husband] too, I know how that feels.” Well, no. You don’t.

You know how it felt for you and how you processed it. Which could be completely different from how they felt and how they processed it.

The ironic thing is that if you listen to someone and kindly acknowledge you don’t feel what they feel, most people feel like you “get it” even if you don’t. In my experience at least.

Saying “I understand” doesn’t magically make it so. The people who have the strongest right to say “I understand”, don’t.

A friend with cancer didn’t need to say a word to communicate she understood what it’s like to struggle with health problems. What she did say demonstrated that she cared, which matters more

You don’t have to understand. You don’t have to feel what they feel. All you have to do is care. And listen.


P.S. Ignore the previous email. I accidentally clicked “Publish”.

P.P.S. I purposefully chose an example I can’t personally relate to (the death of a spouse) because I appreciate the people who have tried to be empathetic about my problems, even if some of their efforts were misdirected.

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