This post is part of our #MentalHealthWeek series on empathy and suicide prevention. To view the entire series, click here.
If you have been following along with our posts this week, you may be wondering “is empathy something that we are just born with – or born without?”. Thankfully, empathy is a skill that we can grow and practice. Today we will be sharing information on barriers to developing or demonstrating empathy, as well as tips for how you can grow your empathy skills.
Barriers to Empathy
Before identifying way to develop and practice empathy, it might be helpful to discuss some barriers to developing empathy, such as:
- How you were raised
- How people treated you when you had emotional needs
- What people taught you about emotions
- The messages you received about the value of emotions.
- Cognitive biases, dehumanization or victim blaming.
- Fear of becoming overwhelmed or becoming stuck in emotions with another person.
(Source: Cognitive vs. Emotional Empathy (verywellmind.com))
Thankfully, these barriers to empathy can be addressed using some of the strategies below.
Developing and Practicing Empathy
Empathy can developed and practiced. Some ways to develop empathy include:
- Become Self-Aware
- In order to be able to recognize other people’s emotions, you should be able to identify and communicate your own. This is often referred to as emotional literacy.
- One tool that can be helpful in identifying your emotions is the Feeling Wheel. You can use this wheel to practice identifying and responding to your own emotions.
- Put Aside Your Own Viewpoints
- Our own experiences and beliefs can influence how we perceive other people and situations. In order to empathize and connect with another person, we need to be able to put aside our own beliefs and biases in order to tune in to what is happening to them.
- Read Fiction
- Reading fiction allows us to “get inside the heads” of characters who have different ways of thinking or feeling than we do. Fiction can introduce us to new ideas, places, and ways of being that can make it easier to empathize with people who are different than us.
- Try Something New
- Another way to gain exposure to different perspectives or worldviews is to try something new- such as travelling to a new place, trying a different hobby, enjoying some new food, or visiting a new place of worship.
As you can see, empathy is a skill that can be learned and developed over time- and doing so doesn’t have to be boring or stressful. Check out the resources below for additional information on how you can develop and practice empathy.
Resources for further learning: