Empathy is an important skill that not many people bother to develop. However, not many realize that empathy, in fact, can be one of the significant differences between you being a good person or not. Being an empath is for everyone and if you are a parent nurturing empathy in teens or kids at the right time is remarkably necessary.
How many times have you been through these situations in your life?
- Where have you felt that people have refused to acknowledge or even recognize your feelings?
- You have found yourself thinking that you are misunderstood? Or
- Have you ever been stuck in a situation where you wouldn’t have been if only someone had bothered to look at your perspective?
Empathy is the capacity to understand and imbibe what another person is experiencing. Rather than just passive expressions of sympathy, empathy focuses on looking at things from within the other person’s frame of reference. Consider this analogy: It is like looking at a movie rather than reading a book. Put it simply, empathy requires us to place ourselves in another’s mindset and put ourselves in their shoes so that we can understand what affects them and their emotional and mental wellbeing.
I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.
– Maya Angelou
A study by Simon Baron-Cohen in 2004 determined that empathy consists of three main components:
Cognitive empathy refers to knowing intuitively what the opposite person is feeling due to certain instances or may feel due to potential instances. It requires a deep understanding of emotions, not only of our own but also of others. Cognitive empathy is also called “Perspective Taking”, it empathy enables us to logically think about the solutions to a person’s problem when they might feel overwhelmed with their emotions. Cognitive empathy may be applied when a friend in trouble might approach you with their problems. Or a co-worker may want help regarding certain workplace complications. Apt responses and offers of help while dealing with difficult situations can go a long way to help a person feel secure and loved. Cognitive empathy is usually aroused intrinsically, but it has to be strengthened and sharpened for better results. All in all, cognitive empathy responds to a problem with brainpower rather than raw emotion.
Emotional reactivity refers to a level of empathy one might feel when they are particularly attached to the opposite person. It is also present in people who tend to be ‘over sensitive’. Emotional reactivity can mean feeling the emotions another person feels. It is a deep-seated, gut reaction and often feels like a visceral human response. With emotional reactivity, the connection between two people becomes extremely strong; it is intimate and can lead to a strong bond between two people because the understanding between them runs much deeper than mere sympathy.
Usually, women are more prone to experience this type of empathy. They react better when dealing with emotions and are more prone to building stronger and better relationships than their opposite gender. However, this is not true in all cases. Emotional reactivity has more to do with biology, childhood experiences, and inner character dispositions than it has to do with gender. Although at some times, this very skill can prove to overwhelm a person because they are dealing with their emotions and the ones of their closest. This can get a bit too much to handle and often challenging to control. It also gets difficult to draw distinctions between one’s own emotions and those harbored by another’s experiences.
The Empathy of Social Skills
With this kind of empathy, we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel for them, but it also moves us to help spontaneously. That is to say, we do not merely feel what they feel and sympathize with them, but rather, we tend to intrinsically try and help them out of their adverse situations. Social skills determine how easily an individual is prone to deal with other social beings. However, this type of empathy involves the other two too. This is because emotions become the driving force behind actions for help. The right understanding of others’ emotions and coming up with well-meant solutions requires a definite use of brainpower. It involves using your emotional intelligence to respond correctly to the situation without becoming overwhelmed with sadness or trying to fix things with only logical or irrational motives.
Neural Foundations of Empathy
The research on the neurological foundations of empathy is relatively new. However, preliminary studies indicate the involvement of mirror neurons that are responsible for creating identical emotional reactions in the empathized.
Research also indicates that the sensory-motor area, insula, and cingulate cortex together form a neural network for empathy processing. People with damaged right somatosensory cortex have trouble perceiving and differentiating between others’ emotions.
Some Potential Ways to Nurture Empathy in Teens
Empathy depends upon various factors, and though a large share of that is indeed genetics and childhood experiences, kindness can also be nurtured by specific changes in mindset as well as in a social capacity. Inculcating empathy in teens is an integral part of parenting, as parents you mustn’t miss this.
1. Increasing Social Interactions
An easy way to nurture empathy is to increase the amount of social interaction you are exposed to. By allowing yourself to get exposed to people from different cultures and backgrounds, you begin to understand different approaches to life. Frequent contact with individuals in need of help can also help nurture empathy. It enables us to truly understand the perspectives and opinions of those that need help. For example, volunteering at shelters and nursing homes over the weekend is a great way to help your teens empathize with others while spending some well-deserved family time.
Also Read: Some moral values you must teach your kids for them to live better in the modern world.
2. Connecting Through Similarities
You can generate empathy in your teen by pointing out similarities between them and other people. Not only these similarities act as a topic to bond over, but they also make teens realize that they are part of something much larger and that people at a basic level can relate to one another in some way, shape, or form. Maybe they have the same interests, go to the same school, belong to the same city, or even just relate to each others’ ideology. Either way, once you establish a connection, empathizing with another should flow naturally.
Also Read: Parents can raise grateful children by complying with the factors affecting a teenager's personality.
3. Understanding your Own Emotions
To ingrain empathy in teens isn’t an easy task, in fact, before teaching your teen to empathize with others, you must teach them how to analyze and respond to their own emotions and feelings. Once an individual is successful in assessing their own desires and motives, they will better understand those around them. One must teach teens how to develop their emotional intelligence. After all, the first step towards understanding others is understanding yourself.
4. Establishing Goals and Challenges
Setting goals that are challenging to an individual is of utmost importance. One can adjust the challenging goals to match the abilities and capabilities of an individual. If a goal is set too high, you might end up feeling frustrated and disappointed, whereas if the goal is too easy to achieve, it may not stimulate your intellect fully. Setting appropriate goals for yourself and your teen is important. When a goal is challenging, and you struggle to achieve it, you develop feelings of humility. One of the first steps towards empathy is to develop humility. If your teen is humble and ready to understand others, learning how to empathize will be the natural next step.
5. Cultivate Curiosity
Believe it or not, most of us have a nasty habit of judging others, even if they’re total strangers. One of the biggest obstacles in the way of genuine empathy is this habit of judging even those that we know nothing about. Try and replace this with a greater sense of curiosity. Instead of just assuming a person’s situation or emotions, ask them and really find out what’s going on. Asking more questions will help you open up and develop a stronger understanding of those around you. Try and remember that people come from different backgrounds and different social structures. They perceive the world differently than you, and that’s where the beauty of subjectivity lies. Acknowledge that beauty and embrace opinions, no matter how different they are from your own.
6. Widen your Circle
Empathy, especially for strangers, starts with exposure to people who are different from us. Research says that contact with people of other races increases our empathy towards them at a neurological level. The basis of empathy is understanding another’s perspective. Instilling empathy in teens is much needed, once your teen begins to understand the situation and perspective of those that belong to different backgrounds and cultures than them, they will automatically be able to empathize with them.
Most research on empathy has revealed that the practice of empathy, compassion helps in building feelings of trust and safety. It helps in building successful relationships. It also supports the social connections required for communication and shared activities. Being a parent, it could be a big win if you successfully impart the importance of ’empathy in teens’ to your kids.
A world with empathy is nurturing and supportive; it helps to create an environment where an individual can take risks and be creative.