A Little Empathy Can Go a Long Way

Call this naïve or optimistic or whatever you want but my opinion, and this is only my opinion, is that nobody wants to act rude, angrily, nasty etc … they usually have a root cause that makes them act that way or, in severe cases, they have sadly been conditioned that way over the course of their life. To me, and this may be wrong, I believe that nobody wants to be miserable! I believe that nobody wants to go through life sad, mad, angry or frustrated, taking it out on others as they go but sometimes some people feel they are victim and have no alternative.

Some other people may act nice towards you 90% of the time but one bad day, bad moment or bad situation can cause them to treat you in a clearly unacceptable manner. I am not condoning those actions but I am offering you an alternative way to look at those events and helping you find a way to take less offence and hurt from them. I am offering you a perspective that will allow you to respond to the event rather than react to it, and that perspective is empathy.

When someone has acted poorly towards you those actions are not the result of someone that is happy and having an amazing day but instead the reaction of someone who is down or hurting. They are either not happy with themselves, their situation, their life, or the bad day that they are having. What I am saying is, if someone is angry / rude / nasty towards you … anything towards you that you think is not right, my words of advice to you are “There is a REASON they are acting like that!” . They might be having a bad day, or they may have what they consider a bad life, or bad parents or bad friends or bad run of luck. Lots of things could be factored into the way they acted towards you.

Though it’s not right for them to act this way you must learn to handle the situation differently. If you first try to empathise with the person you will be able to stop them turning their bad day into YOUR bad day. Don’t react to it by allowing it to make you feel sad or hurt because this person has been nasty, instead feel pity for the person that their day or life or situation is SO bad at that time that they feel sad enough or mad enough to act in such a poor way.

Instead of REACTING to the action by being hurt, sad, or even angry yourself … try to RESPOND to the event with empathy by feeling sorry for the person that things are so wrong in their head / life / situation that they feel they have to act like that.

You will see people acting silly, nasty, cheeky, angrily, frustrated, whatever all the time … so rather than feeling angry that they act that way respond with empathy. Think to yourself “I wonder what has happened to that poor person that has made them have to act that way?”. Try to build that into your life and everyday situations so that you learn to respond to events, instead of reacting to them.

By responding to events in this manner you will no longer take offence to the action of the other person, you will slowly begin to understand why others act the way they do at times … and although it is not okay for them to act like that you’ll know that it is THEIR problem, not YOURS! By doing this you will slowly but surely bring your guard down, you will no longer be on the defensive all the time, and you’ll start to realise that YOU are no longer the problem, the person has their own INNER problems to deal with that are causing these actions!

With your guard down and practicing a little empathy towards others you will notice that other people around change how they act towards you. In the past you both may have felt that you have been butting heads together, but with one person practicing empathy and bringing their guard down the other one has no option but to do the same. The battle they are seeking is no longer there!

Some will feel they have been at war with you but as you no longer react with anger back towards them they have no need to keep up their battle towards you. If they no longer feel it is a battle or a war they will start to respond themselves instead of reacting. You’ll begin to build healthier relationships built on mutual compassion towards each other’s points of view and you’ll both be able to learn and understand more.

empathy

Here’s an example of my own I’d like to share, we went thought a spell a year or so back where my own kids behaviour had been gradually getting worse and far too often it felt like everyone was on edge waiting for the next 5 minute fall out. In my view at that time my stepson was always on the look-out for an argument with me and my younger son would always be ready to flip into a tantrum at the smallest of things. It got to the point that when driving home from work I would work myself up into an irrational, stressed out mood … ready for a battle with whoever kicked off first as soon as I walked in the door. This was a horrible situation for me and equally as bad for the kids but I didn’t realise at that time that I had the power to defuse the situation.

When at home I would constantly be going around the house on edge, worrying how my stepson was going to react to anything his mum or I did or said and just waiting for the next argument to kick off! If I wasn’t worrying about that, I would be on edge with my 5 year old son, dicing with the line between trying to be a great dad while not over spoiling or pandering to him, which far too often lead to some monster tantrums completely out of the blue.

The moment that I got over my own insecurities and stopped letting my own assumptions run away with me I slowly started to lower my guard, I started to respond to how they were acting rather than reacting in a sad, mad or angry way. Instead of reacting to the bad behaviour I started to wonder what the cause was. My belief was that my boys didn’t want to act badly towards me, that they didn’t WANT to be cheeky, angry or silly … they just had an underlying cause that was making them feel below their best so they were taking it out on their mum or me, something I am sure most parents will understand.

By empathising with them and trying to figure out why they were acting badly I was usually able to find out what had caused the bad behaviour in the first place and try to help them get over the cause or fix it altogether. For the young one it was usually an attention seeking behaviour, he wasn’t centre of attention or getting what he thought was enough attention so he would just get some NEGATIVE attention from his good old dad instead. In a child’s mind attention is attention, whether it’s good or bad! For the older one, it was usually a bad mood from things happening outside our house, at school or problems between friends or at football. All of the time, as expected, I discovered that it had NOTHING to do with us, but we were the only ones around to take it out on.

In the odd occasions that I couldn’t figure out the cause I would just reinforce that their mum and I love them, remind them that we’re on their side and that we’ll always be here for them if they ever need to talk about what is bothering them. Sometimes even just that simple reminder can be enough to lift their mood, other times it doesn’t lift their mood instantly but at least it is giving them a healthier self-image and self-worth that they are loved and that we are here to listen.

It’s the old cliché of people hurting the ones they are closest to and love the most because, well they have to take their bad mood out on someone and god forbid they take it out on the ones that caused it instead of those that do the most for them! By showing empathy towards them instead of anger their defences come down and they remember that we’re on the same team and here to help.

When I started to do this with my stepson especially, he soon brought his guard down as well. He gradually realised I was no longer the enemy but actually completely on his side. He relaxed and started to feel more respected, more wanted and more loved. It wasn’t that he wasn’t respected or loved any less before it was just that now I was no longer on edge and fully SHOWING that I was on his side rather than just saying it.

I was no longer going around on the defensive, no longer waiting for the argument and no longer letting my negative assumptions dictate how I reacted to situations. I was going around with my guard down, relaxed and happy and so was he. I am delighted to say that things have been MASSIVELY better ever since.

He is still a teenage boy and we’ll have our moments of not seeing eye to eye from time to time but we are now on the same team, he knows that we are here for him and to help, and neither of us are walking around on eggshells waiting for the next kick off. I have to say it is absolutely fantastic to have everyone living life in our house with their guards down and this is all thanks to showing a little empathy with the perspective that both of my boys don’t want to act badly. It is from believing that when they do act out it is a warning sign to look for the underlying reason behind it. My job as a parent is to find that reason and try to help fix it, not to blame the boys for feeling that way and acting out in the first place.

I have examples of this for all aspects of my life, not just my home life. I promise you if you lower your guard and stop looking for battles, people will lower their guards as well, maybe not instantly but as soon as they realise they are not going to get another battle with you they will have no option but to either show some empathy back towards you or find someone else to battle.

In work, you will discover that you speak differently on the phone or even via email towards people you have met before and that you respect, as you have already developed some empathy towards that person. You may already know their situation or personality so make allowances for them, by practicing this empathy you don’t take what they say as personal.

So before you react to the next badly toned email from someone you haven’t met in person, take a second to think maybe the person that sent it is having a bad day or maybe they misinterpreted your original email. Respond by not taking it personal but instead by thinking that maybe that person is having a nightmare of a day or they are stressed out due to their workload, and reply in a calmer manner than you usually would showing understanding and support in your words, not anger or frustration.

Try it on the phone as well, next time you are losing your rag at some poor person in a call centre because your broadband is down or your insurance premium is too high, try thinking about the person on the other side of the line … it is pretty likely that they’ve been taking abuse all day from irate customers, would it really hurt you so much to be the one GOOD call this person has?? Try a little humour with them and practice a little understanding, you never know it might end in a better result for you. At the very least it might give the person a little bit of hope that not all customers are rude or it might lift their day that for one call, just one call, they weren’t getting shouted at.

For some people that act negatively towards you it may be a very short temporary thing, something that they will immediately regret. If you show empathy they are likely to back down straight away and usually apologise for acting so badly. For others it could be they have been conditioned badly over their life and usually act that way, it might take longer to build empathy towards somebody like that but you should try. You may as well be the one person in their life that they don’t have to battle or feel angry towards, and by showing a little understanding and a little empathy you will be able to do that.

If someone is going around being nasty, ignorant or angry … remember that they must have their own issues to carry. Nobody actively WANTS to act like that, it’s just not in our human nature to WANT to act like that! It is the sad RESULT of something that has happened to that person either in the past or recently. Try to see it from their perspective and try to understand that something has made them that way. Cut them a break, realise that it is not a personal attack on you, and who knows … the person might just thank you for being so understanding.

We are all human, try to remember that.

Thanks for reading,

Scott J

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