Have you ever been in a unique and challenging situation that caused you to feel like no one really understood what you were going through? Just about everyone has had that feeling at one time or another. One of the beautiful things about group therapy is that being involved in a cohesive group program provides an opportunity for group members to share their individual experiences with others who can respond with empathy.
Besides love and compassion, empathy is one of the most powerful factors when it comes to connecting with other human beings in a positive manner. Empathy involves shared thoughts, feelings and attitudes, even when personal experiences and backgrounds may be different. Empathy is like a bridge that connects one person to another through identification and understanding.
Three quick but key points for showing and experiencing empathy: Empathy comes more naturally to some people than others. Here are a few things to focus on when showing empathy:
Suspend interpersonal judgement – When empathizing with another person, judging that person’s actions can get in the way of understanding. Temporarily forget about whether or not you agree or disagree with what that person did when trying to empathize.
Focus on their heart and mind, not your own – When showing empathy, forget about how you imagine that you would think and feel in that person’s situation based on your experience and focus more on how that individual must have thought and felt from their perspective (which may be completely different than how you would feel in the same situation)
Imaginatively get into the other person’s world – Allow the other person’s point of view, circumstances and experiences to take you out of your own head and into their world, seeing and feeling things from their point of view and frame of reference as best that you can imagine
Showing Empathy Group Exercise:
Think about the title of this page: “I feel like no one understands…” Take a few minutes to think about a situation in your life which can be difficult to understand. Take turns sharing your situation one person at a time and allow your group members to try to show you empathy by responding according to the following rules for listeners:
- Don't give advice
- Do not focus on whether you agree or disagree
- Do not explain how you think the situation could have been handled differently
- Try to respond with empathy and understanding
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