1) The intellectual identification with the thoughts or feelings of others
2) The power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s position
Put yourself in the place of another. Try to imagine how they’re feeling and why they’re reacting in the way that they are. Think about how a comment may have been interpreted, explore the emotions you would feel if you found yourself in their situation.
Empathy is a powerful tool to possess; my mother often asked me to ‘put yourself in their shoes’, to try to imagine for a minute how I would feel if I were there. Nowadays I do it without thinking, especially with people close to me, and it halts any platitudes I may have been about to offer, and stops me offering advice that I know won’t be taken.
The downside is that I tend to over-analyse situations, worrying if I have inadvertently said the wrong thing, or made someone uncomfortable, or hurt someone’s feelings. I end up feeling guilty for days or weeks or months, when chances are my offhand comments have been taken exactly how they were meant, and forgotten almost immediately.
I don’t find it hard to empathise, but I find it difficult to know what to do with my empathy. When I understand how someone is hurting, rather than just knowing that they hurt, I want to do something to help. Of course, this isn’t always possible, and I can tear myself up failing to find a way. I know that I’m not responsible for other people’s lives, I know that their problems are not mine, but that doesn’t make it easier to say, ‘Nothing I can do about it’. When I feel their pain, I’d do almost anything to make it stop.
But this isn’t good for me. I don’t know what the answer is.