We all know that empathy is the key to effective communication.
But the question is, do we really, truly understand what empathy is?
A lot of us struggle to understand what another person is going through because we haven’t experienced it. We don’t have a mental map for what their perspective might look, feel, or sound like.
All intimate relationships need a bed of empathy that we can snuggle into with our close ones. A warm space where we can share, relate, understand, and find a common path to walk on.
But that space needs to come from both people involved.
Being able to empathize is, perhaps, the last stage of emotional intimacy.
Before we get to a place where we can feel someone else’s pain or pleasure as our own, we need to be able to take in their perspective.
We need to understand at the most basic level that:
1. Everyone has their own mental map of the world. We use this map to navigate through people and situations.
2. Having different mental maps doesn’t mean that one is “wrong.” It simply means that each person has their own path and lessons to learn. It is up to us to bring the two maps together and form a united whole.
3. Everyone has feelings. Anyone can feel hurt, angry, or even rejoice at something which may be completely different from another’s thoughts and emotions about the same experience. In relationships, it’s about creating a little more space and inviting the other to share that space.
4. Acceptance is fundamental. If we don’t embrace and accept people for who they are, how they perceive situations, how they feel about certain things, we will always be in a battleground, fighting with the ones we are meant to love.
5. Acceptance is not agreement. We can and will have differences. It doesn’t mean that we need to invalidate the other person’s mental map. Even to offer a different and more viable position, we need to first give them the comfort that says, “I hear you,” “I understand,” and, “I am open to understanding you more.”
6. If we genuinely struggle to understand why someone is feeling or behaving a certain way, then we need to offer a more open position where we say, “Please help me to understand why are you feeling this way,” or “What should have happened differently, according to you,” or “No, I don’t understand yet, but I want to.”
7. It’s not about advising, solving, or fixing. It’s about being in the moment with another and absorbing the mental map that is colored with their thoughts, emotions, memories, and triggers.
Before we can reach a place of truly “feeling” the other person’s feelings, we need to understand where these feelings are coming from. We need to be able to create space in our minds for somebody else’s mental map.
The question we need to ask ourselves is: Am I ready?
Am I open to looking at things from a different perspective?
Am I willing to make space for someone who is important to me?
Am I willing to ask questions to enhance my understanding?
Relationships are nothing more and nothing less than the art of creating spaces for ourselves and for the ones we want to love.
Creating that space requires just a little shift, bit by bit, to keep creating more and more space. Compromise, adjustment, and sacrifice are big, scary words that come much later.
To begin with, it’s all about creating a little space.
Are you ready to create that?