Over the last few months I’ve found myself in conflict with a dear friend over and over again due to our inability to correctly recognize and predict each other’s emotional responses. But just as a lack of empathy can cause conflicts, empathy can be an important tool. Mauricio Hernández Sarti finds that
“empathy is one of the most powerful processes that allows forgiveness and understanding … to resolve conflicts” (http://www.mediate.com/pdf/WalkInHisShoes,MirrrorNeurons,EmpathyAnd...).
Empathy is both genetically determined and a learned skill. The seeds for empathy are planted by responsive parenting during the infant-toddler period. Empathy then begins to grow during preschool. However, it is during the elementary school years that empathy either takes root and becomes a way of life or emotional callousness sets in: Children that are overwhelmed with emotions can be blocked from developing empathy. Since they can’t cope with all those emotions, these children might learn a habit of ignoring feelings. (http://parentingtheatriskchild.com/Empathy.html)
The problem with missing empathy is one’s inability to determine another individual's feelings, more so than an actual inability to feel them. Once somebody becomes aware of another person's feelings, there is a good chance they are capable in showing (or faking) empathy of a variety of emotions. The key to empathy is learning to understand and recognize other people's feelings and emotions. Unfortunately, once adulthood is reached, most people do not necessarily broadcast how they feel, and one must resort to asking questions, reading between the lines, guessing and trying to interpret non-verbal cues.
How can empathy be learned? Beth Steffaniak mentions the following “7 Ways to Develop Empathy and Gain Insight” (http://writeontheknows.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/7-ways-to-develop-e...):
How can empathy be taught? Empathy is taught by showing others how to think how somebody else might think (and feel) in a given situation, including the description of feelings and potentially followed-up by awareness questions (what are they aware of, what do they notice from here, etc.).
The Emotional Quotient-Inventory and other emotional intelligence tests (http://www.maetrix.com.au/meit/eitest.html ) attempt to measure empathy (among other things), for those who would like to assess themselves.
Please feel free to add your comments if you would like to share their thoughts on improving empathy in ourselves and others.
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