Sympathy vs. Empathy
In our every day lives, we are constantly faced with challenges and difficulties, not only our own, but of those around us. At any given time, yourself or someone you know, may be facing something that is just down right hard. It may be depression, grief, addiction, relationship issues, anxiety, problems at work or school... the list is endless. During this time, you or someone you know may (hopefully) be leaning on others for support.
When someone has the courage to open up to you, or you have the strength to open up to someone else, and ask for help, advice, a shoulder to cry on... there are a few common responses.
"It will be ok"
"At least you have a job"
"Everything will be alright"
"At least you have your health"
While these responses come from a place of good intention, they come from a place of sympathy. This is a common response, because it allows separation from the other person's pain. Dealing with challenging feelings and emotions is difficult, but being open and available to just be there with someone in their pain is very helpful.
At HopeLine, our volunteers go through 40 hours of intensive training that teaches empathetic responses instead of sympathetic responses when talking with individuals over the phone and text. Empathy allows you to "feel with" someone instead of "feeling for" someone, which establishes a stronger emotional connection that can lead to healing. This also allows for the person in pain to be in control of the conversation, empowering them to talk about how this is affecting them, instead of trying to "fix" the situation.
There are some helpful tips to keep in mind when learning to use empathetic responses:
1) Keep the focus on the person
2) Try to visualize the situation from their point of view
3) Remain non-judgmental
As with learning any new skill, this can take some time to become comfortable using. At first it may seem a little awkward or unnatural, but tapping into truly caring for someone and how they are really feeling will help. Here are some of our favorite empathetic responses:
You are doing the best you can.
You are balancing a lot.
You want to be a good friend.
You are putting a lot of thought into this.
Responses like these, allow the person to feel that you are ok with the dark feelings and emotions, and want to hear what they have to say. Dr Brené Brown has a great talk and visual of what this can look like in practice that sums up what we do here at HopeLine.
If you or someone you know is going through a challenging time and need someone to talk to, call or text HopeLine at 919-231-4525 or 877-235-4525 for free and confidential, supportive listening.