Do you think it is truly possible to empathise with a person if you have not experienced what they are currently going through? Do you have enough self awareness to give all of yourself when listening to someone’s troubles?
Logic tells us that a person can empathise easily with another if they have experienced the same trauma. An example can be a woman who loses her child to an illness and feels an immense need to set up help group sessions for women who have also lost children. Let us say a woman felt a burning desire to set up a help group session despite NOT losing a child, would she be able to connect with the grieving mothers in the same way? Would she be perceived as authentic and in touch with their feelings?
My opinion is you can relate to others if you have the desire to, if this is truly your calling. Passion and purpose are important factors and will ensure you stay true to yourself even when self-doubt comes along. When I studied for my counselling diploma over ten years ago, I was required to undergo counselling as well as give counsel to my peers. I was reluctant to ‘let go’ at first as these were people I studied with after all. I wondered what I would share – enough to be deemed as transparent but not too much that I felt completely exposed and vulnerable. Clearly I had trust and control issues. I was most surprised that my counsellor was very present when I shared. She was with me all the way. I am unsure if my counsellor experienced what I had so cannot rule out whether she was able to relate to my issues. I do know that the woman I counselled shared issues that I had not experienced but I was still able to recognise and share her pain. I was able to ask inviting questions to enable her to explore further and stay connected whilst she spoke.
I learnt much about myself whilst on the counselling course; my fears, my hang ups, my trust issues and my expectations from others. I learnt that I care and have a heart for helping others and this was not restricted to those who have had similar life experiences to me.
What are your views on empathy?
Can you easily separate empathy from sympathy?