The ability to understand other people is an important skill for those recovering from an addiction. Those who abuse alcohol and drugs tend to be highly self-absorbed and selfish. This will usually bring them into conflict with other humans. The addict can be the source of a great deal of suffering for family and friends. When these individuals become sober it will be necessary to take a new approach to dealing with other people. Part of this will involve learning to listen and trying to be empathetic.
Empathy can be defined as the ability to identify and understand another person’s situation, feelings, and motives. It involves using imagination to understand what it must be like to be the other person. Empathy is subjective, but it greatly improves communications between people.
Difference between Empathy and Sympathy
It is common for people to use the words empathy and sympathy interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. When somebody feels sympathy for another person it means that they can identify with certain feelings that the other person may be feeling. Empathy differs from this because it means being able to share the whole experience of the other individual. Sympathy is more about feeling sorry for somebody while empathy is about trying to understand what it is they are going through.
An example of how empathy differs from sympathy can be understood by means of an example. If a social drinker feels sympathy for an alcoholic this may be based on recognition that it must be unpleasant to be trapped and see your life fall apart. If the person is showing empathy for an alcoholic they will be looking at the whole experience from the addict’s point of view. This would involve recognizing the ambivalence that such an individual has towards sobriety, and how sometimes they will not feel trapped in their addiction.
Empathetic listening involves really trying to understand what the other person is saying without rushing to any judgments. It means actually trying to feel what the other person is feeling. In order to be able to do this the listener has to go beyond just words and also be aware of visual clues for how the speaker is feeling. Empathetic listening required a good deal of focus and effort.
Benefits of Empathy in Recovery
Empathy and empathetic listening can be highly useful tools for people recovering from an addiction. These are some of the benefits of using this approach with other humans:
* It can greatly reduce the amount of conflict in the individual’s life. The most common reason why other people become angry is that they do not feel like they are being understood.
* One of the most important benefits of empathy is that it improves relationships. Those who have been addicted to alcohol or drugs will have done a great deal of damage to their relationships and empathy can allow them to repair this damage.
* It greatly improves communications because there is less likely to be misunderstandings.
* Failure to understand other people can lead to much suffering and negativity. Those that are empathetic will have a far more positive view of humanity.
* It can reduce feelings of bigotry, racism, sexism, and all other types of intolerance. Empathy allows people to see that everyone is in the same boat – there is far less of a feeling of us and them.
* Helping other people is a wonderful way for the individual to strengthen their only recovery. In order to really help someone else it is necessary to understand what it is they need.
* It makes people more open-minded about life in general. This is vital if people wish to develop emotional sobriety and build a successful life away from addiction.
* It helps people overcome self-absorption. This type of obsession with self can prevent people getting better in recovery.
Empathy and Emotional Sobriety
In order for people to find true happiness away from alcohol and drugs, it will be necessary for them to develop emotional sobriety. This is sometimes described as the ability of the individual to feel their feelings. The person who develops this type of emotional sobriety understands themselves much better. This makes it easier to understand other people. Empathy comes naturally to those who have developed emotional sobriety.
How to Develop Empathy
Empathy is a type of skill that people can learn to develop. Here are some strategies that will allow people to become more empathetic:
* Empathy requires using imagination to understand how the other person must be feeling.
* Many individuals have the habit of thinking about what they are going to say when the other person is still talking. This is not empathetic listening.
* When listening empathetically, it is vital to put aside personal opinions, beliefs, and prejudices. The goal is not to judge what the other person is saying but to understand what they are saying.
* In order to be able to empathize with another person the individual needs to be self-aware. Those who are caught up in denial, or lack insight into their own problems, will struggle to empathize with other people.
* It is important to keep in mind that it is never possible to fully understand what another person is feeling. For example, it would be impossible for somebody who is healthy to fully empathize with an individual who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
* It is not necessary to approve of the actions, thoughts, or behaviors of the other person. The goal is to understand them.
* Many people find that they are eager to give a response as soon as the other person has stopped talking. It is best to wait about ten seconds to make sure that the other person has finished and to allow time for formulating a response.
* Silence can be a wonderfully therapeutic tool. Sometimes there is just not anything to be said.