Some days it feels like no one understands how you feel. This can be one of the loneliest feelings — but it isn’t true. Humans are naturally empathetic.
Every emotion you’re feeling, even if it’s all part of a complex web of things that are happening in your life that no one else could possibly be experiencing, has been felt before.
It’s the reason we love poetry and art and music. Expressing the inexpressible complexities of human emotion is hard: that’s why the majority of us aren’t full-time poets or artists or musicians.
But feeling and expressing these things are important; we’ve all heard people say: “this song saved my life.”
So how do we focus on cultivating empathy in our everyday lives? And how do we open ourselves up to those trying to connect with us in a deep and vulnerable kind of way?
Fundamentally, how do we care better in a world of inauthentic cyber-connectivity that often cultivates passive caring rather than genuine vulnerability?
Confronting Your Defence Mechanisms
Cultivating your sense of empathy is really about confronting your own defence mechanisms — the ones that shut you down from feeling other people’s feelings.
Your own feelings are a lot to handle (being alive in general is a lot), so taking on someone else’s emotional burden isn’t always appealing.
But if someone is being vulnerable with you, try to avoid putting up your defences. This could include comparing their situation to others’, trying immediately to find a bright side, or problem solving. All of these, which may immediately feel helpful, are actually just self-defence mechanisms to avoid having to feel what they’re feeling.
Instead, try to see their world. Ask questions about their situation with the intention of understanding them better, not to fix things.
Appreciate them as a human being (with flaws!) and avoid judgement. Try to understand their feelings and communicate that understanding.
If you feel like you’re always listening to other people’s problems but never expressing your own, it can be easy to blame others for not being open to you.
But consider whether that’s accurate. Have you given people the opportunity to be there for you? Have you been open and honest about your situation, your feelings, your grievances, and your triumphs?
Try your best to push your limits and pursue vulnerability with people you trust. The world needs more empathy, and that can start with you.