Empathy is one of the major capabilities required to understand one another. This ability goes beyond intellectual or cognitive understanding of another’s experience or point of view. Empathy includes an understanding on an emotional level. It involves trying to accurately understand and communicate the objective reality of the other, without adding, subtracting, or changing the information that comes from the affective and cognitive levels. Empathy requires that we put aside our own feelings, reactions, and thoughts, in order to detect the other’s world. Such positive understanding builds a trusting relationship by perceiving a sense of deep mutual reward and expanding the ability to get to know each other better on both sides as well. Empathy is the ability to understand the other person’s unique experience, that «being inside someone’s shoes».
Empathy is present in all people to a greater or lesser degree. It is not a special gift that we are born with, but a quality that we can develop and enhance. The capacity for empathy begins to develop in childhood. Parents are the ones who meet the affective needs of their children and who teach them not only to express their own feelings, but also to discover and understand the feelings of others. If parents do not know how to show affection and understand what their children feel and need, they will not learn to express their own emotions and, consequently, will not know how to interpret and feel those of others. Hence, the importance of good emotional communication in the family from the beginning. The capacity for empathy will develop more easily in those people who have lived in an environment in which they have been accepted and understood, have received comfort when they cried or were afraid, have seen how concern for others was experienced… In short, when affective and emotional needs have been covered from the first years of life.
We have often wondered why people do not seek support from us or why they are reluctant to talk to us about their feelings. There are several barriers that often prevent this approach. Among the mistakes we tend to make most often when relating to others are the tendency to play down what worries the other person and try to minimize their feelings; listening with prejudice and letting our ideas and beliefs influence our interpretation of what is happening to them; judging and using phrases such as «what you have done is wrong», «this way you will not achieve anything», «you never do anything right»…. Feeling compassion or setting yourself as an example for having gone through the same experiences. Trying to encourage without further ado, with phrases such as «cheer up, in this life everything gets better». Being right and going with the flow…All this only blocks communication and prevents a good empathic relationship.