Empathy – coping with isolation together
In this time of physical distancing and self-isolation many of us are rightly looking for ways to support each other. Now, more than ever, is a time for community. But how do we support those around us? Particularly those who may be facing an increase of anxiety or even panic?
The best forms of communication often rely on two fundamental concepts: listening and empathy. When we reach out to each other, offering a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear, how can we acknowledge others’ feelings and offer empathy.
Empathy is often misconstrued for sympathy. These words are frequently used interchangeably but the difference between a sympathetic and an empathetic response can make all the difference. Being sympathetic is a response to a feeling from outside whereas empathy stems from being in or alongside a feeling with someone.
To support those around us in this difficult time, empathy requires us to put ourselves in their shoes or at least tap into similar feelings that we may have. Many of us will be experiencing feelings of uncertainty, anxiety or panic. We may be concerned about what will happen next or about the health of family or friends. Can we acknowledge these feelings in someone else because we feel them too? Acknowledging these feelings and possibly feeling them together can help people feel less alone.
We may not fully understand where someone else is coming from and it may be tempting to try and lessen people’s concerns. To be empathetic, we may have to put aside how we feel in order to be with the person and understand their perspective first. “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood”. It’s fine to share our own thoughts, particularly if they are similar, as long as we keep the focus on comforting the person who is sharing with us.
Many of us can acknowledge that times when we’ve felt the most supported were times when someone took the time to really listen and hear what we have to say. With so much uncertainty surrounding Coronavirus we might not be able to make things better for people. Empathy doesn’t always mean having advice or practical solutions – although it can help, it means providing comfort or support when people need it most and providing a source of connection between two or more people. Empathy can help break down the walls of social distancing and self-isolation when it is needed more than ever.
If you are self-isolating due to COVID-19, our duty team continues to provide advice and signposting. For people who need more support, we are providing this by phone. Email [email protected]