We adore the people in our lives: our friend and family. We want to be with them when the celebrate victories, as well as when they are going through struggles. But can we sometimes unintentionally make bad things worse? Are we pushing our horror or outrage because of our own life experiences, onto the people we love, thus making a bad situation terrible?
In today’s topic I really had to think about hard about my own life. How often do we all put our two cents in when all our friend really needs is a listening ear and for someone to understand?
So I want to ask you today, are you projecting your opinion, or showing empathy when someone comes to you for help? What is the difference between empathy vs projection?
What’s the go?
So obviously there is a big difference between feeling empathy for someone while listening, as opposed to projecting our opinions, fears and beliefs onto them.
So The Babble Out says that empathy:
…refers to the ability to relate to the suffering of another living being as if it is your own
Where as one facet of projection can be more like:
…the presentation or promotion of someone or something in a particular way…the unconscious transfer of one’s desires or emotions to another person.
Now I’m not talking about the kind of projection which is a bad way we don’t deal with our issues (read about that here). I’m talking about not listening to someone, making assumptions and expecting others to think or feel how we would in a situation, or how we think they should. It’s making their problem about us, not them.
We all have our own personal beliefs and bias’s, but there are times when we need to keep them to ourselves, shush up and put them to the side.
Here is an excellent video, by Brene Brown which shows the difference between Empathy and Sympathy. She’s such an excellent teacher, and this really shows us how to have an empathetic conversation with someone. I know I have been guilty of trying to find a silver lining to help people rather than just listening.
So How Does This Happen?
Let’s say you’re having a cuppa with your besty. Your friend is talking about how her husband has been distant lately and she understand it’s because he’s snowed under at work, but it’s still difficult.
So an empathetic response would be to listen, understand he is probably very busy as well as understanding that would be very hard on her and really putting yourself in her shoes. Ask her what she thinks about doing about the problem? Whether she wants to wait it out or maybe plan a family day. What does she want? She knows him way better of course!
Projection would be putting your fears, hurts and opinion in, when it’s probably not right. Let’s say you have had a similar experience as your friend, and it turned out your ex was cheating. You then ask her if she has noticed any cheating behaviour, or any other problems in the marriage. You tell her what she should be doing to rectify the situation and she ends up walking away worried and scared.
How Can You Help The People You Love In The Best Way?
So in the above scenario, there was a small problem, which got blow out of proportion. Your friend isn’t as likely to come to you again with a problem or confide in you if she thinks you are going to beat down on her husband or make her feel more upset than she was before.
- Don’t make it about you. The person who is talking may have a lot in common with you, but they are their unique selves, and have their own unique way of handling a situation.
- Reflect and be self-aware of your own feelings when people talk about certain situations, so that you can understand your own responses to topics etc.
- Be in the moment and actually LISTEN. Don’t make their problem about you!
- Put yourself in their shoes as best as possible. People want connection – so make them feel understood.
- Ask questions about what they feel and think about the situation so that they reflect and clarify about it and come up with their own ideas of changes
- If they want to solve a problem then help if they ask, otherwise understand they just may need to vent and already have the situation under control.
Offering a silver lining can minimise someone’s feelings about an experience. You want to be positive, but when someone is going through something tough, you do need to acknowledge that it is bad and not brush it off.
This will come down to the relationship you have with a person as to whether or not you will try to redirect their thinking in a positive and empowering way.
If you know your friend is usually pretty good, then let them have a vent and don’t preach to them. Sometimes that’s enough.
But if this person has a habit of wallowing in self-pity, not making any changes and just continually cycling around with problems, you can ask them questions that lead them to think in a different way.
- What do you think you should do about it?
- Where will you go for more information about solving this?
- What professional can you talk to about fixing this?
It’s about showing understanding and connection, without telling them what to do. People are waaaayyyy more likely to take action on an idea if it was their own.
Obviously if you are not very close to this person you really have to tread lightly. In my day job, It’s more of my role to listen with empathy than to advise. Actually I can get in big do-do if I do advise clients in things I’m not qualified in. So take each situation as it comes.
We want to help people, not make them feel worse. Projecting our beliefs, values or fears onto someone isn’t something we mean to do, we do it subconsciously really.
Take notice of how you engage in conversations with others. Even if you aren’t able to offer someone advice or fix their problem, if they walk away from talking to you feeling lighter and more positive, you’ve helped. And that’s the goal.
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