How To Be An Empath If It Doesn't Come Naturally To You

No tears required.

Image: iStock

Being a shoulder to cry on costs nothing and gives someone the world of comfort. But if being an empath doesn’t come naturally to you and you find nodding a lot easier than actually engaging in empathy, there could be science-backed reasons why and a way to overcome it.
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people often avoid empathy as it requires too much mental effort and if they didn’t think they were good at it then it made them feel insecure, irritated or distressed.
The study, led by Penn State University, asked 1200 people to choose decks of cards featuring sad or smiling people and found when given the choice they continued to choose the cards that didn’t require feeling empathy.
Most noteworthy though, when people were told they were good at feeling empathy, they would make more effort to choose empathetic images and report that it required less mental effort. Which means, becoming an empath is possible, if you can grow confidence and believe you are good at it.

So, how can we deepen our sense of empathy and feel good doing it? By learning what it is, why it’s important and the key traits that make someone a genuine empath, so we can help adopt those qualities. We asked Head Psychologist Mary Hoang of The Indigo Project to give Amodrn the lowdown.

What are the key traits of an empath?

“Empaths are highly sensitive, open, compassionate and good listeners. They can feel other people’s emotions deeply, even physically. They can easily connect and take on other people’s feelings leading to them feeling drained emotionally and they can be overwhelmed if surrounded by negativity and stress.”

Are we born empaths or is it something that we learn?

“We all have the ability to be empathetic (unless there has been some brain trauma or evidence of a personality disorder) and this is because we have brain cells called ‘mirror neurons’ that enable us to mirror people’s feelings. Empaths are said to have hyper-responsive mirror neurons which cause them to feel others more deeply, but we all have these neurons.”
“New research has found though that 10 per cent of variation between people’s compassion and empathy comes down to genes. This means that social factors such as upbringing and environment play a huge role. Experiencing emotionally challenging experiences while growing up can lead to a heightened sensitivity to emotional experiences, and parental style can also play a factor in how we develop empathy. “

friends talking, gossip, oral health, bad breath
via iStock

Why is empathy important to practise?

“Being empathetic is an important skill as it allows us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and gain a perspective that may be different from our own. Empathy is a vital part of developing emotional intelligence as it allows us to respond sensitively to others. When we are in situations where people are responding to us empathetically, we feel heard and understood, which is a elicits pleasure and deepens connection and trust between individuals.”
“Additionally, empathy fosters prosocial behaviour, like altruism – helping others because we can and want to, as well as manage conflict and have healthy cooperation and relationships in families and workplaces.”

What Are Your Top 5 tips For Practising Empathy

1. Just listen

“We’re pretty good at putting our two cents in, but practising empathy means learning how to zip it, and to really tune into what people are saying, and seeing things from their point of view.”

2. Ask questions

Take the time to ask people questions shows that we are enquiring more deeply into other people’s thoughts and feelings, which indicating our care for them.”

3. Validate

Learn how to accept other people’s feelings and not try to change them, even if it’s uncomfortable for you! The opposite of validation is to judge, ignore or reject what someone is saying or feeling. Let people know that it’s ok for them to feel the way they do.

4. Pay attention to your body language

Use open and inviting body language and check that you aren’t crossing your arms. Nodding and mirroring someone’s body language can also express empathy and understanding on a non-verbal level.”

5. Be curious about others

Spend time thinking about someone you care about and how they came to be where they are. You don’t have to spend a lot of time doing this, and it can really help you gain a perspective that is deeper and more appreciative of others.”

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