Empathy is critical to emotional health. This is the ability to discern emotions in others and then experience, within ourselves, the same emotion. This is much different than sympathy, which is the mental awareness of what another person is going through.
Developing the ability to empathize is important if you want to improve your relationships and get healthy emotionally. Why is it important to be healthy emotionally. Well, I believe that our emotions play a big part in our physical and spiritual health as well. Emotions live inside us and if painful emotions are living inside you they eventually come out in behavior, thoughts and attitude. Unresolved emotions can lead to physical illness and mental damage as well. It also affects your relationship with God.
Emotions should not control us, we should understand and control our emotions. We should not try to shut off our emotions or hide them, that is why empathy is so important. It helps us to connect with and understand other people much better.
To develop empathy we must learn to listen and observe words, sounds and body language. Jesus was amazingly empathetic. He was moved with compassion as he discerned the needs and pain of others. Read Mathew 9:36 and 20:34.
When we can empathize with someone three things will happen:
1. The other person will feel that someone cares for them and is willing to enter into their emotional world.
2. They feel like someone understands them.
3. They feel that it’s ok to be emotional and express emotions, in other words, my emotions are legitimate.
All emotions can be grouped into two categories: Potentially painful and potentially positive. The Bible teaches us how to attune or empathize to these two groups of emotions. In Romans 12:15 it says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”
When someone is sad, we often think it is important to try to cheer them up. That is our natural response, but what is actually most helpful is to be sad with that person. Seems odd, but that is what empathy is. The people around us will feel blessed when we allow and encourage them to express their positive or painful emotions and we either rejoice or mourn with them.
This life skill of empathy is a game-changer for relating to other people. This skill allows you to connect with people in a way that helps them feel safe and valued. They will actually feel better after talking with you than before. It also helps you to better understand why people do what they do.
As a mentor and a pastor this skill has helped me to help other people. When people cannot process their emotions with someone they end up in a downward spiral that leads to destruction of relationships, and their physical well being. It often causes them to feel distant from God as well. To stay healthy emotionally a person must be able to process and express their emotions to God and other people.
As a leader, spouse, parent, boss, employee, sibling or friend, the ability to empathize will improve your relationships and deepen them as well. Learning this skill takes time, effort and patience. Paying attention to the details, asking the right questions and sometimes just being silent and feeling the emotion the other person is feeling. This can be hard work and frustrating at times, but in the long run empathy leads to better emotional health for you and those around you.