Discover more from Tell Chantel
How to have empathy when you can't relate
Empathy, n. - the ability to understand and share the feelings of one another.
We all know by now how important it is when connecting with others and earning trust. But what if you can't relate? Then what? How can you empathize with someone when you haven't had the same experience as them?
Enable 3rd party cookies or use another browser
Envision this scenario…
You're sitting next to someone who is crying about something. Maybe it's a friend, a family member or even a stranger. You want to help them, so you ask them what's wrong. But then when they tell you, you realize that you don't know what to say. They've just told you something you've never experienced, so how can you empathize?
I will tell you right now, if you've been in this situation, you're not alone, and nothing is wrong with you. I've been there before and it can be so hard.
Today, I'm going to teach you something invaluable I learned that helped me empathize in seemingly impossible moments. And I know it can help you too.
One word: Meisner.
Years ago when I worked as a professional film actress, I studied an acting technique called The Meisner Technique. This method teaches you how to relate to the character you're going to play by finding something in their experience that's similar to your own. For example if the character is struggling with a fear of rejection, but rejection has never bothered you, can you think of something you ARE afraid of? If you're human, most likely you will find something.
Think of that thing when you're identifying with the other person.
One of the reasons people have trouble empathizing is because they don't realize that the other person's situation doesn't have to be EXACTLY like theirs. It doesn't!
In other words, you can still empathize with someone even if you seem different. Remember, we are only as different as we let ourselves be. At the end of the day, we are all human. We can all find something to understand in the other person even if it seems hard.
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. "But what if it's a major loss? What if the person just lost their husband and I've never been through something like that? How can I possibly empathize in that situation?"
It's true that you won't be able to relate 100% with their experience. And you can even be upfront about it when comforting them. But what can you do? Imagine if someone you deeply love was suddenly taken from you. How would it make you feel? How would it make you act?
Recently, one of my friend's husband passed away. They were perfect for each other and clearly very in love. I've never experienced this kind of tremendous loss before, but being the diehard empath that I am, I was determined to offer something, anything other than simply "I can't imagine the loss" or "I'm so sorry."
So I imagined what it would be like if the love of my life suddenly died. What would the house sound like without his voice? What would I feel when I drove in the car and he wasn't by my side making me laugh? What would I feel when I go to bed at night and he's not next to me? When I imagined these things, I was in tears. Probably charged with pregnant hormones, I actually couldn't stop crying for hours when it hit me that I too could lose my soulmate before we're old.
I told my friend this. I said that even though this has never happened to me, I could feel the pain she was probably experiencing, though obviously not nearly as much. I told her that if my love was taken from me, I would feel heartbroken, devastated and lost.
Imagining myself in her position by finding something in my own life that I could apply it to, my heart hurt so much for her.
See what empathy did? It didn't just help me be able to relate to my friend even though we didn't share the experience, it helped me value and appreciate my own husband more.
Empathy is a hugely valuable tool in all kinds of relationships because it builds trust in the other person. When we can empathize with someone, they feel safe with usm They feel like they can be vulnerable and honest with us. I don't know about you, but I want authentic, deep connections like this.
With empathy, this is possible.