19 OctDeveloping Empathy: The Value of Understanding and Relating to Others by Dr. Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D. Being able to relate to others is a key part of survival in social groups. And the more able you are to understand and relate with other people, the greater your chances of success will be within your own social groups. How we relate to others in our social circles speaks a great deal about us. And you may have noticed that some people in your social circles are more attuned to others, sometimes in a seemingly intimate way. But this doesn’t mean that they know a friend of yours any better than you do. In fact, this may signal that they simply have a higher degree of empathy than most people. You probably already have a great deal of empathy. And the importance of empathy is something that not many people think about during person-to-person interaction. But empathy also creates a great deal of value in our lives. Understanding this value can make the development of empathy an attractive pursuit. Could you benefit from more empathy? Contact the experts at the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy for a consultation today. What Is Empathy? Empathy is defined as being able to understand and share the feelings of another. And you can have empathy for people as well as other forms of life. For example, many people who classify themselves as “dog lovers” may admit that they sometimes feel what their pet is feeling. And this intuitive expression of genuine understanding and compassion is what empathy is all about. Being able to relate to others on an intimate level is the hallmark of empathy. However, many people may confuse sympathy and empathy. And according to Dr. Konstantin Lukin, “empathy is a more accepting, non-judgmental way of being there for somebody, whereas sympathy regards being able to understand what someone is going through while also being aware that you’re not being affected by it.” Essentially, empathy creates stronger bonds, a greater degree of kindness, and is a key component in the establishment of emotional safety in relationships. What Is the Value of Developing Empathy? Just being more kind toward others is perhaps the greatest value that empathy can bring. And as you probably know, the world could always use a little more kindness. But while empathy not only shows that you genuinely care and are concerned with others, it can also benefit you and the people around you in many ways. According to Dr. Lukin, “Those who are naturally empathetic are often more kind to others. And some studies even suggest that people who are highly empathetic often are in a better mood, or may find themselves in a better physiological state than others who don’t exhibit a higher degree of empathy.” Additionally, developing empathy can help enhance or contribute to the following: Improving communication skills Strengthening relationships Boosting creative thinking Increasing capability for love and compassion Building stronger social connections Mood Sense of peace and calm Whenever you have a developed sense of empathy, according to Dr. Lukin, the benefits filter out into larger social circles as well “When you’re able to be present for someone else and speak to them about what’s happening in their life without judgment, you’re essentially making other people feel more comfortable and better able to connect with others, therefore creating a larger social network,” he says. Just taking the time to show someone you care is going to bring a degree of joy and gratitude into the situation. Even if it’s not realized right away, through empathy, you’ll have at least planted the seed. Empathy in the Workplace Developing empathy doesn’t only benefit you and those closest to you. Empathy can play a major role in social work environments as well. For example, work environments are a lot like being on a team. You have to rely on the others around you for support in order to win the game. At work, you have to rely on others to get the job done. And when you’re able to connect with others more intimately, you’ll have a greater understanding of how the team operates and of the overall goal or objective. In fact, a few key benefits of empathy in the workplace are: Boosts productivity Fuels collaboration Establishes trust with colleagues Improves cultural tolerances Aids with consumer satisfaction Builds leadership qualities Additionally, according to Dr. Lukin, “If you’re able to show a higher degree of empathy in the workplace, this means you’re probably going to be liked more by your coworkers. And this could mean a higher likelihood of getting promoted or taking on new responsibilities.” Empathy not only shows that you care about the well-being of others, but also that you consider the deeper meaning of various nuances. And this is can be an attractive quality in the workplace. How To Develop Empathy While some people naturally exhibit a high degree of empathy, developing a greater degree of empathy for others is also possible. And the benefits for doing so can bring wonderfully positive experiences you’re your life. Dr. Lukin holds that developing empathy has a lot to do with “focusing on how you feel about yourself and also learning how to regulate how you feel about yourself.” And through this type of focused self-work, becoming more empathic is achievable. Additionally, empathy is also an extension of self. According to Dr. Lukin, “empathy is an outgrowth of someone being more comfortable and in control of their own emotions and being able to identify, organize, and make sense of their own emotions.” And the idea here is that when you’re comfortable with yourself, you’ll likely have more space for another person. A few ways that you can work to cultivate empathy in your own life are: Process and organize your feelings Learn to slow down and regulate your emotions Take a genuine interest in the lives of others Actively seek to change your emotional process Put yourself aside and focus on being present for others Dr. Lukin believes that if you’re more adjusted and balanced emotionally, “you’ll have a greater reservoir of space where another person’s problems can exist without judgment. And when your own emotions are regulated, you’ll be operating from a clear perspective where empathy can also exist.” How Can Therapy Help? Through focused therapy, experiential engagement can often lead to the development of empathy. For example, during couples therapy at the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy, engaging in emotionally focused therapy can potentially unearth empathic qualities – and lead to more empathic behavior. Therapy offers an intimate space where people can talk openly and genuinely about their emotions as they arise. Dr. Lukin believes that “when you have open vulnerability, emotions arise naturally. And therapy can help to offer a safe space where intimate conversations can be held without judgment and we can guide this to help elicit feelings of empathy.” In addition, just being willing to develop empathy is the first step to truly learning about and taking an emotional interest in others. Therapy sessions at Lukin Center are designed to help people be more comfortable with emotional expression. And once a safe space is established, emotions tend to arise more naturally. And this can be a powerful tool in the development of empathy and the expression of compassion for others. Could you us more empathy in your life? Contact the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy for a consultation today.