How to build or develop empathy

We assume most all people are born with adequate levels of empathy. People who already know they are empathic go about life with a glass-half-full, rose-colored glasses mentality because we know we could always have it worse. We may expect the best of new people we meet and expect the best in situations we’re involved in. We may walk into a room and be surprised when there is “bad energy”. We want to get to the root of it, help, and stop the problems because when other people are in pain, we are in pain. 

The reality, though, is that not everyone possesses true empathy for the experiences of others. And aside from traditional explanations for low empathy (bio-chemical imbalances, mental health disorders), it makes sense to think about it this way too: we primarily develop empathy by undergoing, examining, and coming to terms with our life lessons.

Imagine if no one engaged in meaningful personal growth — would they be able to understand the emotions, challenges, and hardships of others? Would they care to make things better even if it didn’t directly benefit them?

What if, instead of pursuing personal growth, people pursued more tangible benefits and outcomes like money, exclusive personal belongings, socially acceptable rituals, and letters after their name — experiences that didn’t necessarily require them to learn how specific emotions feel? How much empathy would they develop?

To develop true empathy, we must first understand what our core wounds and life lessons are. The core wounds are the deep scars we carry from childhood or beyond. The fears, insecurities, and triggers. These then dictate our life lessons — the things we are here to do and become in order to overcome the core wounds. Once you figure out the repeating patterns of events in your life and relationships, your core wounds and life lessons become very obvious and you can then begin making different decisions in your life to break the patterns (I do this with clients in Energy Reading sessions). This is when you grow and further refine your empathic abilities and stop the recurrent problems. 

There is another way I like to explain this. I use this technique myself and now, as a mom, teach my daughter to do the same. This technique is basically the traditional “spider web” story outline that we were all taught in middle school or high school English. It’s where you create a bubble/circle in the middle of a page, then draw lines around the circle and connect the lines to other bubbles that support the main idea. 

We can use this technique when a difficult event transpires and we would like to understand and develop empathy or compassion for what has happened and to whom. The main circle represent what actually happened. From there, try to figure out why each person acted as they did. What could be going on in their life that would cause them to say that? What stresses are they under that would cause them to do that? What is their frame of reference or what are their underlying preexisting beliefs that would cause them to feel that way?

From there, create a third ring of line and bubbles. In these circles, you can even further examine why what they did was a trigger for you. “Because they did this, I felt _______.” Then create a fourth ring of line and bubbles. In these circles, ask yourself, why did I feel that way based on what they did? Your core wounds are likely to come up as answers. “Because I always felt _____ about myself”, “Because my parents taught me _________ about myself”, “Because I feared rejection”, etc. You can repeat this until you feel you have sufficiently deconstructed the issue. 

It looks like this:

empathy spiderweb1

After doing this, you will feel you have a better understanding of the situations, develop compassion for people who perhaps wronged you, situations you don’t “get”, and difficult emotions that pop up. Instead of asking “why did this bad thing happen to me”, ask, “why did this happen to us all and what can we learn from this? Why did they feel that way? What personal growth do I need to do? Which area in myself did I overlook that caused them to feel that way? Why do I feel this way and how can I grow so this isn’t a trigger again?”

Once you understand why they felt or acted how they did, you will understand why you felt and acted like you did and how far deep this kind of lesson runs for you. As a result, you’ll develop your empathic skills and begin recognizing how everything is one big interconnected web. 

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