How Good are We at Empathizing? Researchers Say Not So Much

By Rebecca Lewis on May 16, 2017

Being able to empathise is a powerful human tool. It surely strengthens our connection with others and deepens our understanding of them. Unfortunately, most of us are not good at it, according to new research. And too often, we just end up upsetting ourselves, while failing to help the person at hand.

The study, by the University of Buffalo, in New York, says there is a right way and a wrong way to empathize with others. The most common notion about empathy is ‘putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes’. But it may not always be the case, the researchers note. According to the researchers, one way to empathise is to observe and infer how someone feels, known as imagine-other perspective-taking (IOPT). The second approach is for someone to put themselves into someone else’s situation, known as imagine-self perspective-taking (ISPT).

The researchers said that therapists, counsellors, teachers and other people in position to provide emotional support – should be trained in different ways in how to be completely supportive without affecting their own mental health. 

’You can think about another person’s feelings without taking those feelings upon yourself,’ said Michael Poulin, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Psychology, lead author of the study. “Rather than saying to a child "how would you feel if that were done to you” we should be saying "think about how that person is feeling"

The new study draws interesting conclusions for people who working in the medical profession, such as doctors and nurses who are usually prone to burnout. It may also be relevant for parents who may think twice about how they talk to their children. ’Rather than saying to a child, "how would you feel if that were done to you," maybe we should be saying "think about how that person is feeling",’ Professor Poulin said.

Source of this article:

Do YOU know how to empathize? Psychologists warn most of us fail miserably - hurting our own mental health by self-obsessing

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