Empathy is a skill often underrated as a primary means of fortifying our relationships with our partners. We know it’s a good thing, but what is it and what’s the difference between empathy and sympathy? When we sympathize, we pity, we are less engaged and more detached. Feeling pitied is not comforting because it reinforces feelings of weakness and vulnerability. On the other hand, when we empathize, we try to take the perspective of the other person. Imagining ourselves in another’s place can be scary and we might find we are less able to judge or solve their problems.
Some of the most toxic behaviors in our relationships maybe coming from us, not our partners. It is important to recognize our self-expectations and those we have of our partners as well as how we communicate these expectations. Sometimes, when couples feel their needs are not being met, criticism can become the primary mode for communicating those needs. Telling our partners what is wrong, missing, not up to par, and how they are making us angry, can become a defining pattern of communication which eventually leads to resentment and anger.
People sometimes confuse depression with sadness. We can be sad and not depressed, so what’s the difference? When we are sad and not depressed, we continue to do the things we enjoy, be with people and find joy in life. For example, while we may not feel like celebrating, sadness alone will not keep us from accomplishing tasks and finding some pleasurable spots in our day.
We have all been in the awkward situation of not knowing what to say to a friend, neighbor, co-worker or other acquaintance who is suffering through the loss of a loved one. We want to offer some comfort, to be helpful and caring, but we just can’t find the words. As a counselor and person who has suffered through tremendous loss, I would like to offer some tips on how to speak to people during difficult times.
I have heard that sentiment and spoken it myself many times over the years. What happens when we lose someone dear to us, get divorced, lose a job, a relationship, physical functions, a pet, a home or anything we love? In the beginning, our friends and families may be very supportive to us and continue to reach out to us, but eventually we find ourselves alone with our grief. We may not want to burden our friends with our sadness. We might be tired of listening to our own thoughts about it. Add to that, that we live in a society where we're expected to pick ourselves up, get back to our lives and move on.