Empathy is a skill we learn in childhood. It comes from having attuned parents who meet our needs. With attuned parents, it is safe to feel what they are feeling. We learn that when we express understanding of our parent’s feelings, they appreciate it, and we feel closer to one another. There is a warm fuzzy payoff in these situations to being empathic.
When we grow up with unstable, non-attuned parents, we learn that feeling our parent’s feelings is unsafe. We close down to other people because we have learnt that they are not safe. This can take some time as an adult to unlearn, but it CAN be unlearnt.
In just the same way, empathy CAN be learnt. It does take some practice and focus. Below is an example of how you might use the exercise to build empathy in real life.
You think of your teenage son who has seemed a little distant the last few days.
Think of some reasons why they might have been the way they were.
He might have been worrying about exams, maybe something is going on in his friendship group, or he is just feeling tired and overwhelmed.
Think about what your impact on their life might be.
If he is having a hard time, have you been supportive? Remember the time you were sitting your exams, what support did you need from your parents?
How could you be more supportive?
What could you say or do to support him more? Perhaps making him some meals would make him feel much more supported, or driving him to school during the exam periods?