Empathy is Unity

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This past year has been, well, a ride.  No matter what your opinion on any of it, no doubt you have encountered someone on the other side who you just did not understand. Or maybe someone who was unkind to you about your opinion.

This can take a toll on your mental health, relationships, and self-esteem.  So where do we go from here?  A great place to start is with empathy or trying to put ourselves in someone else’s position emotionally.  All of us have probably felt the same way about this year: fed up, misunderstood, maybe angry at some point. Start there.  Start with an emotion you know is universal regardless of peoples’ opinions. Likely even the people who have gotten under your skin the most have felt these emotions as well, and knowing this common ground may help soften some of your frustration.

Take a minute for the relationships that matter most to you that have been strained. Family members, long-time friends, or people you expected to always be close to. Write down their best qualities, or better yet, write down a time they were there for you that meant a lot to you. Remember that this is why you have a relationship, and why you want it to stay strong regardless of differing viewpoints.

Remind yourself that you are not a mind-reader.  We have all been guilty of assuming we know why people have chosen to believe what they do.  Sometimes they tell us out loud, but often they do not.  Try to notice when you are making an assumption about a belief and remind yourself you would not want someone to do the same to you.  This might help you feel more at ease with a differing opinion. Just like with anxiety when we jump to the worst-case scenario we tend to feel overwhelmed and emotional, but when we think of the many other possibilities of why something is happening, it becomes a much more manageable situation emotionally.

Expression is okay, aggression is not.  When you feel yourself start to get aggressive with your own opinion, check yourself.  It is good to be passionate, however often when we are aggressive with our thoughts and feelings, we tend not only to not convince others, we tend to alienate others.  Think of this especially when talking with loved ones. With the many difficult subjects on the table in the last year, this may take patience, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.  So thinking for a moment about how others feel is the key to coming back together.  In order to bridge the divide, we have to do the work of remembering how it feels to read an upsetting comment before we post our own comment.  

Let’s talk about the uncomfortable truth: some of us may be so frustrated and exhausted we have stopped caring how others feel to a certain extent. It is okay to feel this way for a time.  This is human. Emotional fatigue is real, so take a break.  Turn off social media, don’t engage with someone who triggers you, limit your headline intake, whatever you need to restore that side of yourself. Be very honest with yourself so that you can take care of yourself if you need that.  When you start to feel less frayed, you can re-engage with more empathy and less frustration.

Take care of yourself. If you have had to forget yourself during this difficult year because of a job loss, a death, a difficulty of any kind, remember you deserve self-care. Find small ways to nourish yourself; a short meditation, a walk in the sun, a nice cup of hot tea at night, and build that habit back. Caring for yourself will allow you to feel more love for others.

Metta Meditation is a practice in sending peace and kindness to yourself and then others that helps remind you that we all essentially desire the same things in life.  Check out a nice guided beginner meditation for Metta that can help build empathy for others in your life.

Sarah Russ, LCSW is a mental health professional in Miami focused on practical, actionable therapeutic strategies for mental well-being in a world of overstimulation and misconceptions about what constitutes true self-care. Sarah received her Master of Social Work from NYU and has been working in mental health for seven years. She specializes in healthy coping strategies and crisis management for those with chronic illnesses, substance use, and anxiety. You can follow her @mentalhealthformillenials or schedule a session with her at Arvon & Associates in Aventura, Doral, or Virtually by calling 305-936-8000.

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