Ingredients for Empathy

You cannot intellectualize empathy.

You, of course, know this as a highly sensitive person. Because if you could intellectualize empathy, you could also intellectualize yourself out of empathy. Which, you know from experience, is not really possible.

Empathy, by definition, is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel their feelings. Empathy requires feeling. It requires sensation.

Which is why you, hsp, are so danged good at it. Your highly sensitive nervous system is always sensing, and sensing deeply. This constant sensing is one of the two key ingredients to natural empathy.

The other?

Imagination.

Sensation plus imagination are what allow for empathy.

You know this, hsp. You experience this. You’re always hanging out in your subtle body areas anyway – imagination is no big deal for you. For once, I’m not really talking to you. I’m talking to all the people you interact with who are unaccustomed to or lacking the skills for empathy. Your partners. Your parents. Your close friends. Basically, any of the people who want be in your life and want to be in relationship – real, intimate relationship – with you. To these people:

If you want to learn empathy, you must be willing to use your imagination and your sensory system.

When we allow ourselves to imagine what someone else is feeling, we allow for our nervous systems to become responsive to another situation. To another point of view. To another circumstance. We know that we have some control over the nervous system through our mind, which is why activities like meditation have positive effects. Imagination is another exercise for the nervous system that we can use to tap someone else’s feelings via sensation.

You need both of these ingredients – imagination and sensation – in order to have empathy. You also need to be willing to use both.

If you are used to using logic, rationality, and intelligence to navigate all of your interactions, you won’t be good at empathy. You will need to practice. You will need to set down your tools of knowing and develop your tools of feeling. 

This can feel scary if you’re not used to it. We’re often taught that it’s not safe/appropriate/masculine to feel. And that it’s a waste of time to imagine. But those rules are old. They are outdated. And most importantly, they will keep you from ever experiencing real connection – the connection you crave.

You might continue to be right (because if you try to intellectualize empathy, your mind will always tell you you’re right), but you won’t be close to the person you’re trying to connect with.

Empathy brings us closer. Intellectualizing feelings keeps us separate.

In the grand scheme of things, which would you rather be? Right, or close?

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