How to increase Empathy
When you are kind to others, you are able to empathise with them more. However, before you offer kindness to others you need to show kindness, understanding and compassion towards yourself. Within the “loving kindness” meditation you will notice that it commences with asking you to show kindness towards yourself, to a family member, to a stranger and to a difficult person you have difficulty with. Many studies in social psychology have also found that where you find that somebody is like you, you tend to show more empathy towards them.
DeBruine (2002) demonstrated in her research how subjects entrusted more money to their opponents in a game play, when the opponents were presented as similar to them.
Seeing other people as being just like you as they meander through life with their problems and issues is another means to increase empathy.
Whenever you have a disagreement with a friend or loved one or indeed a work colleague, carry out the following practice.
1. Take the 3-minute mindfulness of breath meditation
2. Imagine the person as being just like you, as wanting to be free from suffering and happy and healthy (just like you)
3. Wish the person to be free from suffering, and be happy and healthy
After a few minutes of doing this, you will find that your thoughts are now much more positive towards that person.
How to use Loving Kindness Meditation
Loving Kindness may appear difficult when you first practice it, but you are invited to practice it regularly. Over time you may find that it allows you to let go of the past and opens your heart to forgiveness.
What if you don’t feel any loving?
It is quite possible that when you initially engage with “Loving Kindness” that you may find it difficult to love. Your experiences may be those of anger, sadness and great unhappiness. If this is the case, this is all normal. Instead of seeing these feelings as a problem that prevents you from practicing this meditation, see them instead as a barometer to determine exactly where you are. Please remember that there is nothing shameful in this. If you do not know where you are at the moment, it is difficult to move forward. When you manage to identify the root causes of your sadness or anger, forgiveness may soon follow.
Is forgiveness possible?
It does seem very strange to send loving-kindness to people who you find very difficult in your life.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” – Buddha
Ask yourself, “What is the point in living with a hardened and heavy heart?”
Dr. Fred Luskin has completed extensive research on the training and measurement of forgiveness therapy. His research demonstrates that learning forgiveness leads to increased physical vitality, hope, greater self–efficacy, enhanced optimism and conflict resolution skills. It also shows that forgiveness lessons the physical and emotional toll of stress, and decreases hurt, anger depression and blood pressure.
Forgiveness is essentially about freeing yourself. It has three components. They are 1) Learning to forgive yourself 2) Making peace with those who have hurt you 3) Making peace with those you have hurt.
Learning to forgive yourself
From a mindfulness point of view learning to forgive yourself is important as it enables you to learn from your mistakes. It is important that you learn from your mistakes in order for you to be able to move on. If you do not do this, it may happen that you repeat your mistakes.
As you have seen in previous weeks mindfulness allows you to see the stories and the autopilot habits that have you in this repetitive cycle. As you come to acknowledge the events that occurred, it is very important to treat yourself with kindness and compassion. In doing this, you stop the tendency to engage in self-blame.
You will not be able to make peace with others until you make peace with yourself. For example, Karen remembers being very troublesome in school. Things actually got so bad that she was expelled. Upon reflection, she found that one of the reasons for her unruly behaviour was that her parents separated. On developing this understanding her self-compassion grew and she began to feel happier in her life.
Making peace with those you have hurt
Hopefully, now that you have made peace with yourself, it is now possible to use your Mindfulness practice to understand why you hurt others. This is not about self-justification but about taking responsibility for the choices that you made that hurt others. It involves accepting and viewing things as they are and acknowledging the impact of your actions. It’s only when you do this and learn from it that you can move forward.
Making peace with those who have hurt you
When you attempt to forgive those who have hurt you, it does not mean that what happened was acceptable behaviour. You cannot force others to accept responsibility for hurting you. When you live with resentments about what somebody else did to you, you are the one who is suffering. Remember the quote from Buddha “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. As you become more skilled in Mindfulness practice you will discover that within your own body, holding grudges has a toxic effect on your own well-being. A useful technique here is to compare how you feel inside your body when you are feeling happy and content with life. Doing this will highlight the differences in your bodily sensations. You will not be able to change what others have done to you, but it is possible to change how you relate to it.