Although empathy is often confused with sympathy, it’s a much greater gift. Empathy goes deeper than sympathy in that it allows you to feel for what another person is going through. Perhaps you have experienced a similar challenge yourself, allowing you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Empathy helps the other person feel that they are not alone, and lets them see that there is not only support, but a light at the end of the tunnel. Empathy is an incredibly valuable facet of a relationship.
In a blog last month, I discussed the importance of empathy in supporting someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. Practicing empathy can be its own challenge, however. It can be difficult to empathize with a loved one who is hurting you with their choices, or whose perspective feels completely foreign to you.
Still, empathy doesn’t mean that you have to agree with a loved one’s choices, but that you are listening to them and making an effort to see and feel from their point of view. It’s an invaluable gesture of respect.
Here are six tips on how to practice empathy so that you can better support your loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder:
- Take Your Time. Information comes at us so fast these days, it feels like there should be no “wasted space” in a conversation. Instead, aim for that space. Reflect on what the other person has just said and live in it for a moment before responding. Think about the motive behind your words before you speak them. Imagine their effect.
- Validate. Validate the other person’s emotions with a nod, with an “I understand,” with a touch. This goes miles in helping the speaker overcome anxiety or fear of vulnerability.
- Support. Offer personal support. Let your loved one with BPD know you value them by expressing your willingness to help. In communication, it helps to not feel alone. Up the ante by engaging the other person in a partnership. “I’d like to help in any way I can. Let’s work together on this.”
- Listen. Put your phone away, turn off the TV, and listen with all your senses. See if you can determine how the other person is feeling by paying attention to details such as their tone of voice. What is their body language telling you?
- Body Language. Be aware of your own body language. Maintain eye contact. Maintain proximity (keeping in mind personal space). Engage the speaker with your body language. Give a nod of understanding as they speak.
- Respect. Offer your respect. Let your loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder know that you understand it can be difficult to open up. Let them know that you think they are doing a great job coping. Let the person know that he or she is an individual, and that whatever issue it is they are dealing with does not define who they are.
If you can practice empathy in everyday life, you might be surprised at the result. There is no greater way to help get someone in the safe place they need to open up and start healing than empathizing and listening. It is the greatest gift you can give someone, and can go along way in helping your loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder get the support they need.