What is empathy? In the textbook, empathy is defined as “the ability to project oneself into another person’s point of view, so as to experience the other’s thoughts and feelings” (Adler, Rodman & Sevigny, 2011). I personally think that empathy is being able to understand another person's circumstances, point of view, thoughts, and feelings. Having empathy for someone can greatly build trust within the relationship. It makes the other person feel important and that someone understands what they are feeling and ensures that they are not the only one. When you experience empathy, you are capable of understanding someone else's experiences. A lot of people get mixed up with the meaning of empathy as compared to sympathy. Empathy means that you have experienced the same feelings or thoughts, but not necessarily due to the actual event that caused the feelings. You are capable of feeling someone else's emotions because you can put yourself in their shoes and envision how the same incident would make you feel. When you sympathize with someone, you are sharing his or her pain, loss, anger or whatever the emotion happens to be.
This summer, my best friend Katie lost her grandmother to breast cancer. She was really close with her grandma and losing her was very hard on her. I was able to empathize with her because a month before she lost her grandma, I lost my grandpa. I was very close with my grandpa and losing him was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. Katie and I talked to each other about our struggles and helped each other through it. We empathized with each other and shared our common feelings. Having empathy for each other made communicating much easier because we were able to comprehend each other’s feelings. We were both going through the same thing and experiencing the same feelings so we were able to share our common struggles and help each other deal with them.
A situation in which I was not able to use empathy was when I was talking to a family friend named Jim about quitting smoking. He was 48 years old and had been smoking since he was sixteen. When I was talking to him he had just recently quit. I was unable to empathize with him because I had never gone through withdrawals similar to the ones that he was going through. I felt bad when I was talking to him because I was unable to provide any advice or understanding. It made the conversation feel meaningless and insignificant. If I had empathy for him in that situation I would have been able to give him advice and possible tips to make quitting smoking easier for him. His situation was also hard for me to understand because it was hard for me not to judge him. I thought that since he made the conscious choice to start smoking that he should be able to make the choice to stop.
The morning of my sixteenth birthday was the day I had been scheduled to go for my driver’s exam. I had been looking forward to this day all year and I couldn’t wait to finally have my license and my own car. During my exam I somehow managed to blow three stop signs, drive the wrong way on a one-way street and reverse halfway up the sidewalk during my parallel park. I ended up failing my exam earning a whopping 32 demerits and was really upset about it. After my terrible experience at SGI my mom felt bad for me so she took me to Smitty’s for breakfast. At Smitty’s, she talked to me about my exam and told me that it took her three tries to get her exam. This made me feel a lot better about my situation and made me feel like I wasn’t the only one that failed my first attempt. I was able to tell her how I was feeling and she was able to relate with me. Having someone that could relate with me helped me to deal with the situation and overcome it.
Last summer I got mono. It was the worst two months of my life. When I was sick my mom did her best to take care of me and help my get better. It was hard for me to communicate to my mom how I was feeling because she didn’t understand what it was like to have mono. No matter how much I tried to explain it, she could never fully understand what it felt like. In a way it was very frustrating because no matter how hard she tried she would never understand because she had never experienced it herself.
Through these experiences I’ve learned that empathizing with people helps to build trust. It has a non-judgmental quality to it that can be extremely helpful when someone is in pain or experiencing stress. People who are on the receiving end of empathy generally tend to feel less alone and understood. When I enter the field of nursing I plan on empathizing as much as possible with my patients. I plan on showing empathy and doing my best to understand my patients. I will be there to listen and cry with the patient, too. I will also give the patient permission to cry and go through the grieving process. Having empathy is not necessarily always giving in to the communal good and completely negating personal goals, dreams, feelings, or gains. More it plays out in the consideration of other people when making decisions. Empathy is important in building relationships and understanding other people. It makes us more human when we empathize. It is very important in society because when we can't see where other people are coming from, conflict surely follows more quickly than if we take time to step into their shoes.
Adler, R. B., Rodman, G., & Sevigny, A. (2011). Understanding human communication. (2nd ed., pp. 50-51). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.