Having Empathy Is the Last Way to Help Someone

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By Brianna Siciliano

When we see someone we love suffering, whether it be emotionally or physically, we feel the urge to help them in any way possible. We try to mend them back to better health and help them find happiness once again. During this time, we feel sorry and empathetic for our loved ones, but as it turns out, feeling sorry for our loved ones is not what we need to do.

While being empathetic for struggling and suffering loved ones, we are treating ourselves like the struggling soul. We put ourselves in our loved one’s shoes and imagine what their life is currently like. If our loved one is drowning in their sorrow, we jump into the same sorrow and drown ourselves. Is that healthy for anyone? Not at all. Instead of helping the person you intend to help, you end up hurting him or her, as well as hurting yourself.

If you truly want to help someone, do not focus on how horrible their current situation is. Do not feel sorry for him or her, because when you do, you do not envision him or her as an equal. Instead, you envision him or her as someone who is less than you are. Instead of putting yourself in their situation, briefly acknowledge their pain and situation. Do not do this for too long—just long enough to discover what you would like for your loved one to feel. For example, if your sister is going through a terrible break up, you want her to find happiness and strength. Picture your loved one at his or her best. Look at him/her as a healthy, happy, confident, powerful person and think of how you can help your loved one get to that successful point.

Do not let yourself get sucked into a complaining conversation with them. Do not complain about the situation that is at hand; instead, stay happy and light. If your loved one must complain, you can listen and allow that, but do not join in. By complaining, you spend a lot of energy on the grieving process and less energy on the healing process. Next, acknowledge that your loved one has the right to feel how he/she feels. When people are in pain, they want others to validate that their pain is real. To acknowledge your loved one’s pain in a safe way, say something along the lines of “_______ is a natural reaction to a situation like this,” or “it is okay to be _______.” It is important for you and your loved one to acknowledge the pain that he or she is suffering because once their feelings are acknowledged, they can begin the process of feeling better. Help your loved one remember who he/she is.

Help your loved one find his or her happiness once again. If your brother is struggling, and he used to love painting or boxing, reintroduce him to his passion. If your best friend falls ill, and misses the times where she was able to cook and watch her favorite movies, find a way to incorporate cooking and her favorite films back into her life. Empathy is not going to solve anything, but taking action will.