To explore empathy is to awaken the ability to be generous, supportive and compassionate about the situations that happen to those around us.
Medical Advisor: Zamira Montoya Camargo, psychologist and speech therapist, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare
Developing the ability to be empathetic is key to achieving more harmonious relationships and societies that are compassionate and generous.
Have you ever put on a pair of shoes other than your own? Have you ever walked around in them? Were they too big or too small? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you know what it means to feel like you are in someone else’s shoes.
The notion of trying to use a shoe that is not your own to get a better idea of how others perceive their own realities is a figure of speech that is often used to explain the ability that people should have or develop to be generous, supportive and to feel compassion for what happens to others.
In general, this ability can be referred to as empathy. While it seems to be one of those terms that has recently become more popular, this feeling and was coined by psychologists in the 20th century. Currently, there is no professional in this field that does not believe this feeling must be developed in order to help people live better in their environments and develop more just societies.
According to psychologist and speech therapist Zamira Montoya Camargo, empathy is both a natural and learned feeling. As we grow, however, we can lose the ability to be empathetic as we focus on our own needs and interests and do not connect with others. “Children tend to be more empathetic as they have the ability to be more perceptive and read others’ expressions. For example, children understand what happens to their mother when she is sad or distressed, even though they can’t understand what is causing these feelings,” she explains.
As our expert clarifies, this does not mean that adults cannot be empathetic. It means that because it is a psychosocial ability, it must be worked on and continually developed. This is important not just to improve the lives of others, but so that others have good mental health in their personal environments; as people with a better understanding of others have healthier relationships.
Empathy is based on good communication, where there are not only talkers and listeners, but both parties are willing to provide each other with feedback. People who are only talkers run the risk of closing themselves in on their own thought patterns.
“Empathy is an important part of communication because it is a psychosocial and communicative ability that helps create an ideal mental environment for expressing ourselves. It helps us develop our ability to read others through their gestures, eyes, voices and movements,” explains Montoya.
According to our psychologist, nonverbal communication can say more about what a person can express, as only 7% of their message lies in their words; while 97% corresponds to what their body is saying, but not verbalizing.
“Some people may say that they feel good about something, but their entire body says the opposite. A sympathetic person is able to read these signs and use them to try and understand what they feel,” our expert states.
Neither selfish or servile
While those who go on talking about themselves and their experiences may be categorized as “non-empathetic,” those who do the opposite are also not necessarily empathetic as they are simply spending their time solving others’ problems at the cost of denying it for themselves.
Montoya therefore emphasizes being careful of reaching extremes, as our relationships cannot be governed by being selfish or servile. “It is very important to set limits and clearly express how you feel to the other person. Empathy is also a part of being assertive, which is the ability to clearly express how you feel at the right time and in the right way. By applying this skill, I express when I cannot listen to another or when I do not feel heard,” she concludes•
While empathy tends to be both a natural and learned feeling, it is also a skill that can be worked on with the help of people who are experts in psychology.
Psychologist and speech therapist Zamira Montoya Camargo recommends taking the following steps if you want to develop this skill: learn to listen to yourself (how you act with others), listen to others, see others as if they were a mirror image of yourself and – when communicating – pay attention to the other’s tone, read their body language and take breaks to listen.
May interest you: Be happy here and now