Why self-understanding could be important for empathising well | Psyche Ideas - Deepstash

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Empathising well

Empathising well

Empathy is the ability to understand and share someone's emotions. Empathy is vital for moral development, maintaining close relationships, fostering relations between groups and preventing aggression. 

Most empathy-building interventions focus on developing the ability to take another person's perspective. However, having a clear understanding of oneself is also important for the ability to empathise. 

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A sense of self

A sense of self

Psychologists characterise a person's sense of self by assessing their self-concept clarity. 

  • People with high self-concept clarity say that they have a clear idea about what they are like, that their sense of who they are becomes stable over time, and that their characteristics and beliefs about themselves are consistent.
  • People with low self-concept clarity are unsure of who they are, including their characteristics or desires. The characteristics they use to describe themselves might be contradictory or change from one day to the next.

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Self-other distinction

To empathise well, you need to understand that you and your experience are distinct from another person and their experience.

Some people are more capable of making this self-other distinction than others. Researchers suggest the ability to make this distinction might be related to helpful ways of empathising, such as listening and understanding how other people are feeling.

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Creating an appropriate level of distance

Creating an appropriate level of distance

Personal distress could result from poor self-other distinction - for example, forgetting that the other person's experience, not your own, is the source of your emotional state. Feeling overwhelmed with sadness and anxiety on behalf of the other person isn't really about the other person's feelings but your own.

However, having a clear sense of self should make it easier to appreciate how you are different from other people and to mentally separate yourself from them. It helps you to share another person's emotional experience with an appropriate level of distance. 

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Improving empathic response

One way to establish a clearer sense of self is by identifying your values, such as honesty, spontaneity or ambition. 

Being clearer about who you are could make it easier to sense where you end, and another person begins – and to respond to their feelings in a helpful way.

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