Empathy - To Feel for Others

by - Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Empathy is defined as the ability to feel for oneself the emotions others are going through; to understand and share.
It is in layman terms, able to experience and to put one in others' shoes.

The gift of empathy lies within our souls, as most of us are able to relate to the feelings of others although there will be the handful who truly feels more than others.

"I understand how you feel", "I know what you're going through", are words so commonly heard as we try to bring out that empathy in us in times of comforting others who are experiencing emotionally challenging periods. Sometimes these are words so casual that those who are comforted are not convinced and tend to brush them off as merely courtesy.
True empathy is not purely by words, for feelings cannot simply be expressed by just a few words and expect that it would settle on another's ears or even in their hearts. 
Heartfelt empathy, needs to be felt, and it is through the actions or the expressions that one can tell that the other person truly understands their ordeal.

To be honest, empathy is not really something which can be easily expressed and personally, I do not think that one should say to another they are comforting/consoling these two words, "I understand" for we know, that it is simply not the case.
There is no way any one of us can understand what the other person is going through; even if we ourselves have gone through similar experiences but still, it does not put us in the position to say that our experiences are exactly the same. 
Even if they are matching perfectly, the emotion felt by each individual is still unique and personal.

How can we possibly understand what a person who just lost their loved one is going through?
Do we understand their harrowing wait for the remaining days before bidding their final farewell to their loved ones before burying them six feet under ground, or watch them go up in flames?
Do we understand the emptiness in their hearts after the funeral, and for days to come?
How could we even know the strength of their bond to each other?

Given, it is not our fault that we are so used to these words to comfort our friends and acquaintances in times of distress, for it is probably the only thing we could say, or are taught to say.
There is really nothing else appropriate anyway, and sometimes it is just this urge or we just feel this need to say something while the other person is sobbing uncontrollably.
We feel helpless, yet we are burning with that desire to do something which we fairly know there is absolutely nothing we can do at all to lighten that burden.
It is not wrong then, because it is the intention that counts and nobody wants to feel helpless, especially when dealing with someone they cared so much about.

However, empathy is something which only some can truly feel and experience deeply, which puts them in the right places to help others. 
Think counselors, psychologists, social/welfare workers, or those people who are often requested to talk to people in distress.
Think of the people you are always comfortable to pour your heart to; knowing that they will truly understand and will never be quick to judge you. We share our innermost secrets with confidence, for we have that trust and that unspeakable feeling that these people knows what we are going through.
These are the people who have demonstrated the gift of empathy.

The key to empathy is feeling with one's heart; and relating or just displaying that it is heartfelt.
That is all there is to it.
It sounds simple, but no, it is not.

I have personally dealt with people who came from different backgrounds, and I can personally testify that it is not as easy as it sounds.
I have volunteered to help out and engaged in an outing involving the sight impaired and also orphans.
I have learnt a thing or two from them; which has further enriched my own insights on their lives and enlightening my own as well.

Story of A Man who lost his Sight
A, is a man who lost his sight in an accident in his 30s and had to deal with the drastic loss overnight. 
From a man who could see the world, it was now only black and sounds to him.
A is a truly optimistic man, although he told me it was not easy for him in the beginning.
Like many others, he was in a rage, anger, shock and disbelief when he woke up not being able to see anything at all. He was in denial and lost his temper at almost everyone who came near him in the hospital.
He could not believe it, nor did he want to believe it.
He just blamed everything and everyone for his fate.
He did not want to accept it, and just told himself repeatedly that this was a bad dream and that he will wake up soon.
However, deep down inside, he knew the dreaded truth, he hated to let it out, but he knew that he cannot avoid it. It is something he eventually had to deal with.
Slowly, he gained charge of his life, allowing himself to accept the fact and enrolled in the school or rather, home for the sight impaired where he was taught on self-survival skills.
When I was assigned to be his partner, I held on to his hand as we walked together and I remembered the first thing he told me,
"My dear, you just have to hold my arm or my elbow lightly, and all I need from you is to tell me when there is a step down or up, or if there is a gap. 
Just alert me whenever you see anything that could stray from the norm of a smooth path"

Simple words, but amazingly magnified in wisdom and the power of enlightenment.
He taught me that they are equally capable and independent to take care of themselves.
He taught me life-lessons that were just so applicable to our lives.
They were just as normal as any one of us, they did not need our sympathy. 
They walk the same path as us; they can 'feel' the road even better than us.
In fact, I know that A was just trying to make me feel a little more useful, because he could perfectly feel the road so well with his stick, as he revealed at the end of the day.
He was a delightful person to talk to, and he has shared much lessons with me that I returned to the home to visit him a few times.

He told me that he may have lost his sight, but he gained and sharpened his listening skills.
Listening not only with his ears; which are for the physical sounds and noises which alert him on the objects or situation before/surrounding him, but he learnt to listen with his heart, for those that could not be heard with the ears nor seen with one's eyes.
He could feel what others are feeling, and he could feel the presence of others even if there is not a sound.
He was proud of his new gained gift, according to him, and I was thankful to have met him, for he taught me not one, not two, but more life lessons than he could imagine.

It is not the eyes and ears that guide our paths, but rather, it is the heart and the ability to listen to one's heart that we make the right, and sensible decisions.
It is Love that will always guide us.
Listen to that voice in our heart, for there is the good in there. (Literally referring to our little voice; it could be from the heart or mind, but there is always that tiny voice telling us to do that good thing and not jump into a hasty decision).
Often we choose to ignore that voice, but A said that the voice becomes strong and guided his soul when he could not see.
He taught me that not everything can be seen, but everything can definitely be felt with the heart.

It is always easier said than done, as I have learnt, and I have definitely experienced that.

Empathy is something which fills you in and out; inserting the emotions that can make you feel the very things the other person is feeling.
A person who could truly experience to such depth of an emotion is also termed as an empath; though commonly associated with fiction as depicted in one episode in Charmed where one of the sisters was transferred the emotions felt by an empath and it slowly consumed her; for she was starting to feel both the positive and negative emotions that she no longer knew how to control them.

Make no mistake, this is not similar to clairvoyant or psychic, though they do experience the emotions that go through the people they are connected to.

Empathy is to feel for others, and can be useful to link to others through the emotions.
It is not all about negative emotions, one can also experience positive and elevated feelings of joy of others and could truly bring the meaning of shared joy.
One can even shed tears of happiness when hearing about others' good news or successes.
That is feeling what others feel; that similar joy and pride.

It is a gift truly, as a visiting nun once told me during our conversation.
It can be overwhelming but moderation and learning to understand the gift will elevate one to higher levels.
It could consume at the same time, but take it the right way, and it becomes the gift.

We need more empathy in the society these days, and more to understand the suffering and also the challenges of others so that we could promote a better generation to form the pillars of the future.








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