I grew up as a highly sensitive person without being aware of my high sensitivity. I felt misunderstood a lot. I would get upset over what others viewed as trivial. I was told I was “dramatic” when I would jump from stating I was “freezing my buns off” to complaining it was “sooo hot.” I was constantly told I took things too personally or that I was too sensitive, and I have been jokingly called a “troll” because I prefer the dark to the light.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” You know the saying, “put yourself in their shoes”? That is what empathy is. It is not tying someone’s laces or finding them new soles. It is trying the shoes on and feeling what it is like to wear them. It is understanding what someone is going through by assuming their perspective of the situation.
After experiencing 25 years of life thinking I was slightly crazy, I learned that I am actually a highly sensitive person. My therapist encouraged me to take a sensitivity test, with a score of 14 or higher implying high sensitivity. The test evaluates how your body and mind reacts to stimuli such as heat, light, touch, noise and emotion.
My score was 24, meaning I am highly affected by stimuli. My boyfriend, who often has been a bit confused about my reactions to certain situations, scored a two on the test, suggesting that much of the stimuli that affects me, he likely does not even notice.
While I was already aware that everyone experiences life differently and that everyone’s perspective is influenced by their own unique life experiences, these test results really solidified this knowledge for me. I realized I was not actually crazy and that my senses are — in a way — amplified. My senses’ volume is turned way up, while others have their senses at a “normal” level (is there really such a thing as “normal”?) or turned way down.
I am not a troll for liking it dark because my eyes and mind are literally affected by the light, and my friends are not jerks for whistling loudly around me because that noise is not equivalent to nails on a scratchboard for them.
No two people experience life the same way. The ways people view life are directly influenced by the experiences they have had and the ways their bodies and minds are chemically structured. Just because you do not understand what someone is going through does not mean they are not experiencing it, and just because you cannot understand their feelings does not mean that they are overreacting or that their feelings should be dismissed.
So, how can you implement empathy in your life? For one, practice it. If someone is ranting to you or telling you about their frustrations, do not automatically jump into savior mode and try to fix their problems. Listen with the intent to understand what they are feeling and to understand why they are feeling that way. This does not mean agreeing with them, but rather seeking to understand them.
Communicate with the speaker that you are trying to understand what they are going through. Portray empathetic listening.
The career website Indeed gives some advice on how to listen empathetically: limit distractions when being spoken to; use physical body language, such as eye contact, to show you are listening; reiterate what the speaker is saying and ask questions to clarify or show you understand what is being said and seek to understand rather than seek to be understood.
Empathy is a great asset as it allows people to understand others and to be a support for them. It also benefits those who are empathetic, as they can begin to experience the world through many different lenses rather than only through the same shades they normally wear. You do not have to like the lenses, but you may learn something new from trying them on.
So, jump on that magic carpet and prepare to experience “a whole new world” (“Aladdin” reference for anyone who did not catch that; clearly, my life perspective has been influenced by fiction). Implementing empathy will change your world view — literally.