How to Be More Empathetic

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Empathy involves the ability to sense, understand, and share the feelings and emotions of others from their perspective. It is, essentially, being able to place yourself in someone else's shoes and feel what they must be feeling in that situation.

Empathy is a crucial human skill that can positively impact our relationships, well-being, and ability to connect with others. By taking the time to develop your empathy, you can make a difference in your life and the lives of others.

Learn how to be more empathetic and how your capacity to understand others' feelings can improve your relationships and well-being. 

How to Be More Empathetic

Some people tend to be more naturally able to place themselves in someone else's position, but it is also an ability that you can develop and strengthen. There are many strategies that you can utilize to develop a strong sense of empathy for other people.

Pay Attention to Nonverbal Cues

When talking to someone, take note of their body language and any nonverbal cues they may be giving off. This can give you essential clues about how they are feeling and what they might be thinking.

Understand Where They Are Coming From

Before truly empathizing with someone, you need to understand where they are coming from. This means taking the time to see things from their perspective and trying to understand their motivations and feelings.

Consider how you would feel in their situation. How would you feel? How might you react? What kind of support might you need? Such questions can give you greater insight into what other people are experiencing and help you feel greater empathy. 

Practice Active Listening

Active listening involves fully focusing on what the other person is saying verbally and nonverbally. When actively listening, you should be trying to understand what the person is saying and how they feel, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak.

Express Understanding

Once you understand how the other person feels, it is essential to express empathy appropriately. This means showing that you understand and share the other person's feelings.

This doesn't mean comparing their situation to someone else's or describing your own past experiences. While it might feel like you are helping them feel less alone, it often has the effect of minimizing or dismissing what they are experiencing.

Avoid Making Assumptions

One of the most important things to remember when trying to be empathetic is to avoid assumptions about the other person's thoughts or feelings. Instead, try to see things from their perspective and ask them questions if you are unsure.

Be Aware of Your Own Biases

When trying to be empathetic towards others, be aware of your own biases and preconceptions. Everyone has unique experiences and perspectives shaping how we see the world and its people. Think about how your own biases might affect how you view someone else's situation and then try to set those feelings aside to see or feel things from their perspective.

Practice Your Empathy Skills Regularly

Research suggests that people can learn to be empathetic but that maintaining these skills may require additional support and practice. One of the best ways to develop your empathetic skills is to seek opportunities to practice.

For example, you might volunteer for a cause you care about, talk to people from different walks of life, or pay more attention to your emotions and those of others around you.

Characteristics of Empathetic People

People who possess a great deal of empathy often share several pivotal characteristics.

Empathetic People
  • Emotionally intelligent

  • Good at reading people

  • Compassionate

  • Good communicators

  • Sensitive

  • Strong intuition

  • Warm-hearted

Non-Empathetic People
  • Low emotional intelligence

  • Struggle to understand others

  • Heartless

  • Poor communicators

  • Insensitive

  • Poor intuition

  • Cold-hearted

Benefits of Being Empathetic

Being empathetic can have many benefits, including helping you feel closer and more connected to the people around you.

Some other benefits of being empathetic include:

  • Builds trust and rapport: When you take the time to understand how someone else is feeling, it helps to build trust and rapport. You can communicate with them more effectively and foster a closer connection, which improves your confidence and trust in each other.
  • Encourages openness and vulnerability: When people feel like they are being understood, they are more likely to open up and be vulnerable with you. Sharing things about yourself is essential for building relationships with other people.
  • Leads to more satisfying relationships: It can improve communication, conflict resolution, and overall relationship satisfaction.
  • Promotes personal growth and development: Empathy can help you better understand yourself and others. This self-awareness can promote personal growth and development.
  • Encourages altruistic behavior: When you can relate to the struggles and joys of others, it encourages altruistic behavior. Empathetic people may be more likely to help others in their time of need.
  • Increases happiness and well-being: Additionally, empathetic people often report higher levels of happiness and well-being.

Potential Pitfalls of Being Less Empathetic

Lacking empathy can also have a number of serious consequences in your life:

  • Damages relationships: When you cannot understand or relate to how someone else is feeling, it can damage the relationship.
  • Leads to social isolation: Without empathy, you may struggle to connect with others and eventually become isolated and lonely.
  • Hinders personal growth: Understanding and accepting yourself and others can be difficult without empathy. This can hinder personal growth and development.
  • Encourages narcissism: A lack of empathy can encourage narcissistic behavior. Narcissists are self-centered and lack concern for how their actions affect others.
  • Can lead to bullying: Without empathy, you may not see the impact of your words and actions on others. This can lead to bullying behavior.
  • Increases stress and anxiety: Lacking empathy can also increase stress and anxiety levels. When you cannot understand or relate to the emotions of others, it can be confusing and frustrating.

Can You Be Too Empathetic?

While empathy is generally considered a positive trait, it is possible to be too empathetic. Overly empathetic people may struggle to draw boundaries in their relationships. They may also have difficulty setting boundaries for themselves. 

Additionally, people who are too empathetic may be more likely to experience compassion fatigue. This is a condition where you become overwhelmed by the suffering of others. If you feel burned out or overwhelmed by the emotions of others, it is vital to spend some time focusing on taking care of yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes a lack of empathy?

    There can be many causes for a lack of empathy. Empathy is thought to be primarily learned through our parents or primary caregivers. If our parents were not empathetic, we might struggle to learn and understand empathy ourselves. Additionally, some mental health disorders or psychological conditions may lead to a lack of empathy. For example, people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) lack emotional empathy.

  • What is the difference between empathy and sympathy?

    Empathy and sympathy are often confused.

    • Empathy involves being able to understand the feelings of another. So, when you are empathetic, you can understand and share another person's emotions.
    • Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone else. When you are sympathetic, you may feel bad for the person, but you do not necessarily share in their emotions.
  • Do I lack empathy?

    Think about how you react to the emotions of others. Do you have difficulty understanding or relating to how others are feeling? Do you feel overwhelmed by the emotions of others? 

    Additionally, consider your relationships. Do you find it challenging to connect with others? Do you often feel alone or misunderstood? 

    If you answered yes to these questions, you might lack empathy. However, it is important to remember that everyone experiences empathy differently. Some people may be more empathetic than others.

    Empathy also varies depending on the situation or even the person involved. So, just because you have difficulty empathizing in one situation does not mean you lack empathy altogether. 

    If you are concerned that you lack empathy, it may be helpful to talk to a counselor or therapist. They can help you better understand your responses and help you learn how to connect with others.

A Word From Verywell

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the emotions of another. It is a critical skill that can help us build strong relationships. Additionally, empathy can help us to be more compassionate and understanding. You can learn to be more empathetic by listening, being present, and trying to understand how the other person feels. Additionally, it is essential to be empathetic without judgment. Lastly, talking to a counselor or therapist may be helpful if you struggle with empathy. They can help you better understand your empathetic responses and how to connect with others.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."