Empathy allows us to step into someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. It’s a skill that everyone should have, as being able to relate to others reduces conflict and enhances relationships. Of course, some people naturally have more empathy than others due to genetics, upbringing, and life experiences. This shortfall doesn’t mean you can’t learn to become more empathetic if you’re not already, though.
When you have empathy for others, you see things through their perspective and want to support them however you can. You can put your own opinions aside for a moment and listen to the other person without bias. Empaths provide light in a dark world due to their selflessness, genuine care for others, and ability to see into people’s hearts.
5 Steps to Understanding Others and Increasing Empathy
It’s rare to meet someone who can understand people on a deep level, but when you do, it changes you. You wonder how they developed this gift and may even wish to become more empathetic. Luckily, even the most guarded among us can open our hearts again with a few simple steps.
1 – First, you must have empathy for yourself.
Before you can understand other people, you have to know and accept yourself. Life acts as a mirror, so what we perceive in others reflects our inner world. So, if you genuinely want to become more empathetic, start with the person in the mirror. Forgive yourself for any past mistakes or wrongdoings, practice self-care, and accept where you are in this moment. You’re ready to extend this love to others when you can love yourself fully, scars and all.
2 – Practice mindful listening.
For this step, it’s important to quiet your mind so that your internal dialogue doesn’t get in the way while listening to others. When we don’t train our minds, they tend to wander and have difficulty focusing on the present moment. However, if you want to empathize with others, you need an unbiased, clear mind. Meditation can assist with this goal since it helps you become more self-aware and calms the mind.
So, imagine that someone comes up to you and needs advice about something. In today’s world, many people have forgotten the art of mindful listening and tend to interject with their points of view. Or, they’re distracted the whole time by their phones or even inner thoughts. If you want to increase empathy, you must block out all stimuli and become immersed in the here and now. After all, where else can you be but in the present?
With this in mind, take a few deep breaths and allow any distracting thoughts to dissipate. Tell yourself that only listening to your fellow human being matters at the moment. Everything else can wait until later, but this person truly needs your help right now. With this attitude of being mindful and putting others first, you’re well to become more empathetic.
3 – Open your heart.
Showing empathy isn’t just about actively listening to others when talking. It mainly involves feeling, which comes from the heart. However, there isn’t a formula or instruction manual for opening your heart because it must come from within you. You have to feel a strong desire to help others and start seeing fellow humans as an extension of yourself. When you can see yourself in all beings and love them as you love yourself, you naturally become more selfless. You realize that what benefits you also uplifts others, so you want to spread that positive energy whenever possible.
Meditation can also help you remove any barriers to love and help you feel that oneness with other people. We all share the same connection; it’s only an illusion that we’re different somehow. Specifically, loving-kindness meditation helps you develop compassion and unconditional love for every human.
Sit quietly in a meditation pose and extend love to yourself to practice it. Say a mantra such as “I am enough” or “I love myself unconditionally.” Then, imagine friends and family, and repeat the mantra with them as the subject this time. Move your awareness into your heart center, and imagine sending love to your relatives. Then, extend this love to all life. After practicing for several weeks, you’ll start feeling more openhearted and cheerful, as this study on loving-kindness meditators shows.
4 – Engage in random acts of kindness.
One of the best ways to enhance your empathy is to volunteer or help others without asking for anything in return. Whether you spend a few hours on weekends volunteering at your local soup kitchen or distributing warm clothes to the unsheltered, helping people put things into perspective. Your problems don’t seem as important when you’re focused on improving others’ lives, even in a small way.
5 – Allow yourself to become vulnerable.
Making connections with others isn’t just about listening when they speak. If you want to show more empathy, it helps to talk about difficult emotions or experiences to build trust with people. When they see that you’re comfortable with yourself and don’t feel ashamed of your feelings, they’ll take the cue to let their guard down.
Being on the receiving end of empathy helps you become more understanding. When you’re witnessing the value of kindness firsthand, you see how it can change someone’s life.
Final Thoughts on Developing a Keener Sense of Empathy
Empathy doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but hopefully, these tips will help you in your quest to show more compassion. Even if you’re a logical, straightforward person who doesn’t quite understand emotions, empathy isn’t challenging to learn. Simply volunteering in your community can help you connect with others and show you the benefits of compassion.
You can also practice active listening with your loved ones, which will help you become more selfless. When you witness others’ lives improving because of your empathy, it instills self-confidence and breaks down the walls between you and others. Kindness can significantly impact other people, and it all begins with how we treat ourselves.