TAP INTO EMPATHY THROUGH A MINDFUL PRACTICE
Throughout history empathy has been one of the fundamental values that has allowed cooperation between individuals and across cultures. Empathy is linked to overall happiness and health on both an individual and social level.
Empathy, and other values are often influenced and impacted by current events. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to stay at home and shelter in place in order to protect the greater community. There was an outpour of caring and empathy for healthcare and front-line workers that risked their lives (and lost them) to help others. On the opposite end of spectrum, child abuse and domestic violence increased over the last two years. The pandemic has had a unique power of fostering feelings of love and empathy but also leading some couples to separate. On an individual level, I have seen and struggled myself with being as empathetic as I normally am due to spending less time with others. As we continue to navigate these uncertain times that most likely include challenges related to how we interact with our partners, family, friends, and strangers, there is most likely more stress in our lives and it may be more difficult to be as empathetic as we usually are.
WHAT IS EMPATHY?
Empathy refers to a wide range of experiences and is generally described as the ability to sense others’ emotions as well as being able to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. There are two types of empathy. The first type of empathy is cognitive, thinking, and action-oriented. The second type of empathy refers to an emotional reaction. Empathy is a value that is vital to your overall happiness and longevity.
Interpersonal Empathy includes:
- Mirroring the physiological actions of another
- Taking another person’s point of view
- Remembering that the experience is not your own
Social Empathy includes:
- The ability to understand people and other groups through perceiving and experiencing their stories and life situations
- Learning about and understanding historical group experiences
THREE WAYS TO CULTIVATE EMPATHY
- Meet new people and seek out individuals who are different than you.
- Visit new places that reflect cultures that are new and different to you.
- Imagine yourself in the life of a person who is different than you (i.e., class, gender, culture, race, sexual identity, age, ability, or national origin).
HOW ART-MAKING INCREASES EMPATHY
What is it about art-making and a creative process that is so transformational? Activating the world of our imagination allows us to gain new insights into who we are at the very core.
In order to be able to find new possibilities, we need to go beyond our everyday concerns and enter the world of reflection and imagination. This creative experience involves a mental process known as decentering. In summary, decentering refers to stepping outside the bounds of thoughts and feelings toward one’s self. For instance, if you identify with a specific experience that causes an emotion such as resentment you would relate to the emotion as “I am resentful.” When you practice contemplative art/creative methods you move away from the first person experience to a decentered one that results in observing from a third person perspective, “a feeling of resentment.” In art-making, a multi-perspective dialogue occurs between the materials, the artwork, and the creator. Art-making is an experiential decentering activity that has the power to promote deep change and support the development of a new mindset.
Art-making requires an attention and presence from you that results in strengthening your intuition and awareness. You might have specific goals in mind, such as exploring or fostering character strengths or to simply learn an artistic technique. Either way, engaging in artistic methods can reduce stress, build confidence, and can also help to refine and activate your most important values.
Developing greater levels of empathy and cultivating an empathetic mindset is possible. Explore to tap into empathy will help you build the emotional foundation for you to care for yourself and others. We hope that you give yourself time to reflect and enter the world of the imagination through the an Empathy Self-Care Kit.
Reading List + Sources:
Bernstein, A., Hadash, Y., Lichtash, Y., Tanay, G., Shepherd, K., & Fresco, D. M. (2015). Decentering and Related Constructs: A Critical Review and Metacognitive Processes Model. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 10(5), 599–617. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691615594577
Elizabeth A. Segal. Social Empathy : The Art of Understanding Others [Internet]. New York: Columbia University Press; 2018 [cited 2022 Jan 19]. Available from: https://search-ebscohost-com.libproxy.wustl.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=1868734&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Franklin, M. A. (2017). Art as contemplative practice: Expressive pathways to the self. SUNY Press.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press.