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The Importance of Empathy: How to Strengthen Our Ability to Be Empathic? (page 4)

By — Dr. Robert Brooks
Updated on Mar 16, 2009

4. Honesty and Self-Reflection: While my recommendations for promoting empathy may on the surface appear easy to accomplish, we all too often fail to consider or practice them. If we find ourselves constantly at odds with others, if our relationships are marked by anger, stress, and conflict, if others tend to tune us out, then it is advantageous to us as well as advantageous to those with whom we interact to engage in self-reflection and examine with honesty and a lack of defensiveness the obstacles to our becoming more empathic. For instance, a father with whom I was working regularly recited to his son a list of things that he thought needed improvement (e.g., homework being done on time, keeping a cleaner room, having “better” friends). His son’s behavior did not change. The father said, “He doesn’t listen to me.” I wondered what he could do so that his son might listen to him and how he would feel if someone recited the same list to him night after night after night. It was as if a revelation struck this father when he said, “I would probably do what my son does. Who wants to hear one negative thing after another?” Consequently, father began to focus on things his son did well, striving to lessen comments that his son experienced as nagging. Their relationship improved noticeably.

As occurred with this father, self-reflection can help us to appreciate what triggers our anger or disappointment, how we can speak with people so that they will listen to us even when we are frustrated with them, and how we would like others to treat us. In this process of self-reflection and honesty, we may require the support and insight of an objective person, perhaps a friend or relative with whom we feel comfortable. If the obstacles persist, we should seek the guidance of a counselor/therapist. And remember, if you have struggled for years with problems pertaining to empathy, it may take a while to change. Don’t become discouraged. I believe very strongly that the benefits of being empathic and having satisfying personal and professional relationships warrant whatever time and energy are required to accomplish this goal.

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