Developing Empathy Skills within Relationships

 

 

 

 

In the age of sharply increased narcissism, empathy is a dying art.

 

Bad Seeds…

True Alpha males make shitty relationship partners. Their well established brand of endless string of short-term failed relationships and prepotency for fast fused-quick to fizzle marriages are a pure testament to this, as are the baggage laden train wrecks that follow in their wake. While the alpha attraction triggers female hypergamy on many levels, it fails to transition into appropriate nurturing roles which are critically needed to sustain long-term committed relationships. Their low emotional quotient (EQ) plays out as they tend to find themselves to be constantly at odds with others, in a state of being angry, stressed and frustrated, acting out in a controlling manner, which ultimately leads people to push away and tune them out. Ask any child of an overbearing parent.

Remove the Negatives First

It will be no surprise to most to know that empathy is one of the main components of emotional intelligence and that empathic people are skilled in placing themselves inside the shoes of others and seeing the world through another person’s perspective. The problem isn’t the awareness of the skill, but their implementation that stymies people. In trying to improve almost anything it is vastly more effective to remove a detriment than add an accruement. As such we’ll discuss first behaviors that should be removed or reduced.

Lack of Role Models

Our exposure to multiple role models to gather and develop early behavioral traits and reference points for learning social skills is fundamental in our development as adults, as those without them will be at a severe disadvantage to learning appropriate ones, as they will be ignorant of them or exposed to poor ones. Additionally individuals embracing a arch-type that is obsolete can be more detritus than not having an acceptable one, as the individual will need to let go of their false belief system first prior to learning and developing new skill sets, which never seems to happen without a major life crisis. In this regard family structure, the quality of parenting and exposure to appropriate social culture cues largely prepare and determine one’s preliminary social skill sets, to include empathy, leadership abilities along with many others.

At a Drop of a Hat

Sadly empathy is sacrificed when we are upset, angry, disappointed or frustrated. We must not only fight this natural impulse, but to be well aware how our lack of empathy at these times tends to make the most horrific, life impacting emotional wounds when we fail to control ourselves and lash out on blind compulsion. We need to be aware of how we influence our relationships by not only what and how we say what we do, but the manner and regard for how we care for the people we are interacting with when emotions have put so much at stake. While a liberal use of diplomacy and tact is called for a clear sign that we should be on point is any time anger, frustration or disappointment first raises it head.

Double Standards

We all know the ‘Golden Rule’ of treating others the way you would want to be treated, but are we really holding ourselves to the standard we place on other’s behaviors to you? Would you find your behavior acceptable if someone else did it to you? It is all too common to leave our own behaviors unobserved, but they are precisely the behaviors in which are most visible to others and as a consequence of this human trait, leave us incredibly vulnerable to their impact on the relationship. It is important to remember that one can be empathic, validate another person’s view point and yet still disagree. An important step in doing so is developing a personal boundary of dropping any double standards that may exist.

Relating Instead of Understanding

In a misguided attempt to relate and thus foster a sense of rapport and connection with others, we will often try to relate to what they are saying in our own lives and then share that. While fine on occasion it can lead to a situation where the speaker does not feel they are being truly herd or listened to and comes across as a ‘me-too’ type of one-upmanship conversation. Left un-checked it can have negative impact on the relationship, as it is a detriment to shared understanding, as the comparison does little to foster greater insight or further the rapport with the speaker. Instead of proffering a similar comparison, ask a simple question of ‘what did that mean to them?’, ‘How did that make them feel?’ or ‘why was that important to you?’ can go a long way in fostering the connection we think we’re trying to make.

Not Being Present

The less we are being in the moment, truly utilizing the skills of actively listening, the harder it is to tune into other people’s feelings and intentions, which is critical to providing emotional support, as they are communicating them. In our rush to project ahead, to get to the bend in the conversation and to frame our response, we completely lose sight of the reason of our conversation in the first place, sharing information as a means to build, maintain and sustain the relationship.

Accentuating the Positive

Having removed many of the common obstacles to greater empathic understanding and relating with our partners, we can progress into understanding common traits that will enhance and further our empathic skills which will serve to strengthen these important emotional bonds.

Drop Your Agenda

A central part of being present is setting aside your beliefs, concerns and dropping your personal agenda in order to fully hear what your partner is saying. It is the skill of going into a conversation without expectations, without goals of fixing or resolving issues first. Our presuppositions muddy the communication and our thinking process. Our only agenda is listening to our partner’s feelings, sentiments, points of view and reference points in attempts to understand where they are coming from and what they are trying to express. We are listening to gain their perspective. Once we have listened and we’re sure they have been heard correctly can the communication progress from there.

Getting Beyond the Facts

Most of us consider listening to be made up of clearly able to understand the ‘Who, What, Where, When , Why and How’ of what is being communicated, but fail to take into true account the speakers emotional state, energy, tone and body language as they are communicating. These social clues can be imperative to developing a connection and understanding between the parties, as much as the words expressed. Frequently what being said isn’t nearly as important, as what’s not being said, but otherwise communicated. Learning to fully watch, as well as to listen to our partner strengthens the connection between the cognitive and emotional brain which leads to deep emotional rapport that is defined as empathic connection.

An Indian’s Moccasins

In actively listening to our partner we are trying to place ourselves in their shoes, to see the situation from their position, their emotional standing point and how that is affecting them. If you are unsure, it is completely reasonable and beneficial to simply ask… ask them ‘How do you feel about that?’ ‘What does that mean to you?’, ‘Do you mean that you feel…X?’ etc… learning to use open-ended questions regarding thoughts, feelings and beliefs can not only clarify an issue but bring underlying driving issues to the forefront, often these will be issues surrounding emotional needs.

Relate to their Inner-Child

In times of high contest, immense emotional fray, over-whelming pressure and expectations we are faced with a situation that has created a barrier to communication and connection that seem insurmountable. At times like these a simple and effective strategy of visualizing our partner as their vulnerable inner-child we can lower and lessen our defenses, that will then allow us to preserve the relationship and communicate in an effective way. It is by a combination of seeing through our partner’s presence for the vulnerable person that they are and defusing the emotional intensity that we can then focus on the issue at hand without being distracted by the enormity of them or the situation.

If we want our partners to appreciate what we are communicating, if we want them to respond to and work cooperatively with us, then we must consider their perspective, how they perceive us, how they perceive how they’ve been heard and how they’ve been received by what they’ve expressed . Utilizing empathy is key element within this whole process of communication, emotional needs expression and grounding and solidifying the relationship.

 

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