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The Power of Empathy and Compassion

‘Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant.’

- Henry David Thoreau

In one of my recent posts, I argued that good quality relationships lead to happier, healthier, and more fulfilled individuals. This notion contradicts the belief that happiness stems from how long you have been in a relationship for, or the number of friends you have. After reading the last post, however, some might have asked themselves what, exactly, makes up a good quality relationship, or what makes a relationship close and safe. I believe that the coexistence of empathic and compassionate exchanges helps strengthen, deepen and secure the bond between two people.

Empathy, in a nutshell, is your ability to feel someone else’s pain. It is quite literally seeing someone’s situation – whether it is a good or bad one, through their eyes. Compassion, on the other hand, often involves a motivational component. In other words, you feel motivated to act in hopes of changing a person’s situation for the better. Often, we talk of alleviating someone’s suffering or having an overwhelming desire to help.

The two, however, are not mutually exclusive. What can happen as a result of empathy is compassion. When you feel someone else’s pain or discomfort, it is completely normal to want to act in hopes of changing or improving the person’s situation. For example, your friend calls you to tell you about her break-up. You relate to her on an empathic level by reliving the feelings you had when you and your ex broke up. These feelings lead you to act - for example, suggest a girl’s night, where your friend can vent over a glass of wine.

Empathy and compassion offer different services. One is not necessarily better than the other, but the existence of both in a relationship is necessary. If you are more inclined to act in hopes of improving someone’s situation, try empathically listening for a change. If empathic listening is something you already do quite often, be opened to the compassion that may follow.

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