One of the latest psychological terms that is gaining popularity is a personality trend labelled as an ‘empath’. An ‘empath’ is someone who is extremely sensitive to other people’s emotions and feelings. Some people tend to be extremely empathetic and others are not. Those who are tend to have certain advantages and certain disadvantages. In this post I want to explore these and examine what you might do to manage empathy and use it more effectively.
People who are highly empathetic, in one sense, have great emotional intelligence. They are ultra-aware of other people’s feelings. They have a great capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling. They are big hearted and deeply impacted by art, stories and other people. With this comes downsides. People high in empathy are often hurt easily. They are super sensitive to the negative feelings of others and they can find themselves emotionally vulnerable very quickly.
Managing empathy is about understanding yourself and your tendencies first and then adopting various strategies to become more or less empathetic depending on the situation. For example, I would tend to be a little too empathetic some times. While this enables me to be good at what I do, it has its drawbacks in my personal life. I’ve had to deliberately work on finding ways to minimise the empathic urge when it comes up. Such strategies include focusing on the big picture, considering how the situation impacts me specifically and thinking logically about the event. These strategies all involve moving away from the rumination about what others are feeling and what is going on in their head.
At the same time, there are situations where you need to become more empathetic. Your ability to influence others successfully, for example, is often dependent on your ability to understand how they are feeling. This ‘skill’ of empathy can be improved by paying attention to the details of the situation and background of the other person, understanding how they are affected by it and how they might be feeling about the event.
So, empathy is a great skill to have but not always useful. When it is useful you can improve it by turning your attention to the other person and really allowing yourself to ‘step into their shoes’/ When it’s not, you can minimise it by focusing on yourself or the facts of the situation instead or by getting a different perspective. It is all about where you put your attention.