We are going on eight months of a global pandemic in our country. Remember when we were all just kind of in a flurry of Tiger King and pajama days? Yeah, I barely do, too. It feels like a lifetime ago. While those things have gone away, some things I do still find happening.
I find myself apologizing for everything.
I am not one to overly apologize. I firmly tell my friends, “You don’t need to apologize for that!” Apologies should trigger a behavior change; if your behavior doesn’t change, then you wasted your words. However, people keep sharing devastating stories. The weight of heartache and frustration and a sense that nothing is getting better. We have lost over 210,000 people to this virus this year!
We are a nation grieving, yet trying to live in denial. That is heavy.
I realized that my automatic response of “I am so sorry…” wasn’t because I could change anything. I truly had no idea what else to say. I wanted to connect with everyone, to let them know they aren’t alone, to share their burden of grief. Empathy is holding space, allowing others to process their feelings without fixing or changing that for them. To sit with them. I love Brene Brown’s video on this.
Empathy is this often elusive “soft skill” that too many of us expect others to have, yet we don’t work toward very much ourselves. It is difficult work to re-learn empathy as we get older. Children tend to innately have this skill. Sadly, many of us don’t cultivate it to continue to grow and thrive, so it gets lost. Then we have adults who have forgotten how to be empathetic. We can break this cycle.
We must first become aware that we need to grow our empathy “muscle.” If you find yourself responding to someone who shares something heavy with you, or you feel uncomfortable in hearing what they shared, notice that feeling.
As you notice that feeling, pause. Don’t jump in right away to respond. My instinct is to fix or solve. I always have advice to share. I am working to get better at allowing space for those feelings from that other person. Acknowledging with “that sounds really heavy/painful/etc.”
With people you know well or are getting to know more, asking questions can be another great way to connect. Rather than solving their problem, learn more about them. This is better done when the person is not in a state of strong feeling, so continue to hold space while they feel upset. Once calm, conversation is usually easier and more welcome.
I have been in situations where I have felt upset and someone responded in a way that felt hurtful and unhelpful. It is not a good feeling to not receive empathy. These experiences help me to grow and learn how to better practice empathy toward others. Sometimes I respond in hurtful ways, too. Other times, I am able to recognize the hurt they must be feeling and they may not even know. I am reminded of a saying I once heard, “Hurt people hurt people.” We cannot control how other people interact with us; we can only control how we act with others. Hopefully, as we all learn and grow, our interactions become more loving, kind, and empathetic.