What Would You Say To This Young Man?
How would you show him that you “Get it”? You’ve listened to him long enough to begin to see things from his perspective. You’ve withheld your judgment or and criticism. And now you feel what he’s feeling- even if only just a little bit. So, what would you say? How to let him know you “I understand”? How to show him you “get it?”
Empathy requires that we take one further step: show the person we understand by sharing with the person what they’re feeling:
- “I can see you’re having a hard time dealing with this.”
- “You’re looking depressed to me.”
- “You must feel very discouraged right now.”
- “You’re probably close to giving up!”
The key here is taking your friend’s feeling and putting that into words, then sharing it with them. This lets them know, “I get it!” “I get how you’re feeling.” “I understand (some of) what you’re going through.”
A Woman’s Transgression
A woman once shared her transgression with me. As a student chaplain, still in seminary, I spent one day a week at the local psychiatric hospital to learn how to help people. It was wrong, what the woman did, and I pointed that out. When I told my experienced chaplain supervisor how I had handled the conversation, however, he took a different tack, one I had never thought of. If I could allow the woman to discuss her feelings with me, perhaps, this would give her the idea, “This person understands me.” That I should communicate understanding was new to me.
In my learning empathy for people, I had failed to understand the woman’s perspective, failed to remain nonjudgmental, and failed to understand how she felt. How could I, therefore, take the final step to communicate verbally that I recognized her feelings?
How To Show Them You “Get it”!
- Taking the other’s point of view, temporarily at least
- Remaining free of judgment or criticism
- Detecting emotion, either a core emotion, such as fear, or a defensive one, such as anxiety.
4. The Fourth Step in offering empathy to someone experiencing a crisis: Show them that you, on the basis of their sharing with you, perceive how they are feeling. For example, after listening for a period, you might say, “I can see you’re feeling depressed right now,” “You seem to feel guilty for crying,” or “You’re overwhelmed with fear, it seems.” Best to be tentative, and await confirmation. You can naturally express, however, what you observe. We must take this last step in order to let the other person know we “get it.” It’s not enough to see the other person’s viewpoint, remain free of criticism, and detect emotion. We must now communicate what we sense in their feeling, or what they’ve told us they feel, back to them. That lets them know that you, indeed, did “hear” their struggle, emotional pain, or conflict.
How Do We Feel?
How do we feel when someone accurately sees things from our point of view, and, without criticism, recognizes what we are feeling and can verbalize it accurately? We don’t have to try harder to communicate the depth of our anguish. And, we don’t feel quite as wierd, since someone else recognizes an emotion common to the human race.
Such a relief! Can you appreciate how a person in crisis feels when you, finally, “hear” them? It relieves them of the tension of communicating, of fearing no one understands, or will understand. What joy!
[Credits: Photo: Courtesy Adrian Swancar, Unsplash.com. Definition of Empathy: Teresa Wiseman, RN, medical researcher.