“I see” and “You must have been very upset” are commonly used when we sympathize with someone. However, while saying these things, I wondered whether I was sympathizing with the person or the person was sympathizing with me. And regardless of whether the other person comforted me, or I comforted the other person, I felt empty after the conversation. This is often because they were not truly empathetic. Perhaps we are aware of the problem in the situation, but even so, we don’t know how to avoid it. While thinking, “How can I truly empathize with the other person?” I was able to find some answers in the book “You Are Right” written by psychiatrist and author Jung Hye-shin.
Before we talk about how to truly empathize, we should clarify what 'sympathy' actually is. “sympathy” is known as the power to move a person by understanding the emotions of the other person and the power to heal a wounded heart. However, there is something that many people misunderstand about sympathy. Many people think that empathy is mere nodding and affirming and listening well when someone talks. But empathy is only successful when focusing not only on the other person but by focusing more on my own feelings and not suppressing them. To truly empathize with someone is not to remove their burden, but to carry it together and finally experiencing relief together. However, this is not an easy task. Extending empathy to the other person may hurt because my own wounds are revealed in the process, but at the same time, I can experience empathy and be healed.
To learn empathy, you have to go through several stages. First, you have to listen to the other person until you reach the goal of the conversation. If people lose direction when they talk, you should help them to reach the goal of the conversation through questions. This is a common mistake where the listener just silently listens to the story even though it deviates from the goal. This is like sailing without a specific destination.Many people want to express their difficulties to someone, but often give up trying because they didn't know how to talk to them. In that case, it is much easier to empathize if the listener continues to hold people on course while they are talking. For example, if someone starts talking about another subjects when talking about their own story, you should help them return to the story, saying, “So what about you?” In so doing, people will feel that you truly empathize and understand them. Also, they will be willing to open more and talk about the story in more depth, and they could also discover a new side of themselves in the process of telling the story. At this time, you need to talk objectively and accurately about what they couldn’t think while they were having mixed thoughts. Then they can feel you are truly empathizing with them.
Most importantly, break the wall that people have set up to hide their inner feelings. To do so, you must discern the people’s intention which is hidden deeply, and accurately acknowledge and recognize the feelings. In this regard, Jeong Hye-shin writes, “Those who meet their existence and feelings and sympathize find the enlightenment and path which they need without any special teaching. This is the amazing power of accurate empathy.”Also, understanding the current feelings rather than the past wounds is important. You must understand, point out, and sympathize with the other person’s anxiety first. If people don’t sympathize with their current feelings, they can’t have the courage to bring up their past wounds. After reaching a three-dimensional understanding of oneself based on empathy, they reveal the pain while talking about their wounds, all while they feel that their pain is lightened and healed.
In the process of empathizing, should we sometimes empathize with people who have wrong thoughts and are doing wrong actions? Jeong Hye-shin argues that no matter how wrong they may have been, people who feel they were treated with genuine empathy will be willing to accept the price they must bear. This technique can also be seen in legal psychology. One of the methods for obtaining a suspect’s confession is to say that the suspect had no choice but to do so, and accordingly, the suspects relax their guard and confess. We can truly sympathize when we understand that someone’s actions and thoughts are separate from their intentions. While being aware of this fact, we should ask about the intention hidden behind the action.
Jeong Hye-shin, the author of the book “You Are Right”, said, “Empathy is the harmony of the integrated emotions and thoughtful understanding of one being oneself through the process of knowing and understanding the situation and wounds of another being. It is not innate, but it becomes deeper as you fully know and understand your opponent.”As such, empathy is not just meaningless nodding and unconditional respect, but rather embedding my feelings as if they are the other person’s emotions. I hope that the readers will redefine empathy, know how to truly empathize, and practice it.