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Empathy is the ability to put yourselves in somebody else’s shoes; to see the situation through their eyes; to understand their feelings given the situation they are in.

What does this really mean in everyday life? Why is it important to practice this? How does it free you from anger and resentment, hatred and bitterness?

As human beings we tend to be very egocentric, meaning that we tend to see things biasedly from our own viewpoints when interacting with other people.  Applying empathy to situations can sometimes help to have a more realistic view of situations. If Susan or Mark walks past without greeting or seems “rude” in a text many of us get upset, or we wonder what is it that WE have done to anger the other person, or it makes us dislike the other immediately. Applying empathy lets you ask another set of questions or thoughts. It lets you give the person the benefit of the doubt. It lets you question more deeply the intent of the person. “Is Susan having a bad day?” “Sheesh Mark was so preoccupied he didn’t even see me.” “Susan must be really upset for her to send such a rude text. Let me ask her is she’s ok?”

Repeated patterns of behaviour are problematic but if someone reacts or acts in a way that is not the norm for them, instead of feeling it is directed at you or feeling angry with them, give them the benefit of the doubt. Apply EMPATHY. Don’t let your first instinct be anger or self-doubt.

Applying this simply principal to your life can unburden you and release anger. It can also help you be a little less egocentric. Not everything is your fault or because of your actions. Sometimes someone may just be having a bad day, may be sad, angry, hurt, distracted, busy and their actions and feelings were never meant directly for you or to you. Allow yourself to question, see things differently, re-evaluate. This helps in creating less conflict and self-blame.

This principal also helps immensely in our everyday lives with our loved ones. When you send your wife a text and you see the blue ticks but you wait and there’s no response it is easy for the first thought to be “She doesn’t even care to message back”; or “She’s avoiding chatting to me.” Instead, sometimes, your first thought can be “She must be having a really busy day if she can’t message me now.”

If your child is taking too long to get out of bed: “Every morning it’s the same with you – GET OUT NOW OR I’LL TAKE YOU TO SCHOOL IN YOUR PAJAMAS.” As an alternative you could start with “Shame my baby, mornings seem really hard for you….”

Your best friend hasn’t called you in a week: “She only calls when she needs something” or “she’s angry with me” or “she’s getting back at me because I was busy last week.” Instead “Maybe she doesn’t have airtime – Let me send her a WhatsApp.”

Having empathy or giving people the benefit of the doubt makes for better communication, healthier relationships and models to significant others the way to behave.

If you’re having problems with your interactions in everyday life, either because you misunderstand others or they misunderstand you give us a call at Psychmatters for a one-on-one session or to attend one of our many workshops.

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