Humans have a built-in need for having relationships with other people; whether romantic, familial or friendships – they all count! Frans de Waal, an evolutionary biologist, proved that we are social animals who have naturally evolved to care for each other. It is vital for our emotional and mental wellbeing, and essentially, for our survival. Cultivating good relationships with others begins with having a good sense of empathy.
So, what is empathy?
To put it simply, empathy is the ability to share another person’s feelings and experiences, as well as show them compassion. It is being able to step in their shoes and view life from their perspective to understand their emotions. Empathy is right at the center of trusted relationships.
There are 3 types of empathy:
1. Cognitive Empathy
This type of empathy is concerned with thought, intellect and understanding. You understand how someone else is feeling without actually emotionally feeling it. It enables you to put yourself in others’ shoes, unaccompanied by your own emotions. This can also be described as ‘empathy by thought’, which helps in understanding multiple view points, negotiating and motivating others.
2. Emotional Empathy
Related to feelings, physical sensations and the mirror neurons in the brain, this kind of empathy allows you to share others’ emotional experiences. In a way, you have ‘caught’ their emotions as well – for example, you feel distress in response to seeing a TV show where the character is undergoing surgery.
3. Compassionate Empathy
This is an active form of empathy – there is not only concern for the other person, as well as sharing their emotional pain, but it also leans towards taking the steps to reduce it. It is consistent with what is usually understood about compassion.
In general, we want to acknowledge (cognitive empathy), as well as share others’ emotions and feelings (emotional empathy); but it is just as important to sympathise with what they’re going through and essentially, help them take action to resolve their problems – this is compassionate empathy.
It is important to understand that having empathy is a skill that you can cultivate to ensure you become more compassionate towards the people around you. It is not a fixed trait, meaning there are plenty of ways for you to strengthen your empathy.
How can you improve your empathy?
1. Put your own outlook aside.
We sometimes don’t realize this, but our own experiences and beliefs heavily influence the way we perceive situations and people. Taking a step back and putting our outlook aside may help us tune in better to the person speaking and focus on their issues in the moment.
2. Explore new environments.
You don’t need to go far – explore the next town, or have a chat with your next door neighbour. It’ll give you a better understanding of other people’s lifestyles and cultures. This may increase your appreciation for others. (However, because of the current pandemic, please stay safe at home.)
3. Get feedback from others.
Ask for feedback about your skills (such as listening) from friends, family members and colleagues. You can also check in with them from time to time to see how you’re doing.
4. Challenge yourself.
Venturing into new and challenging experiences will push you out of your comfort zone. Learning a new skill, for instance a new language or instrument, may humble you and humility is the fundamental enabler of empathy.
If you’re interested to see where your empathy level is, try out this quick quiz!
If we were to ask someone to take responsibility for their life or actions, they would usually ignore it. Why? Because this statement may seem judgemental, aggressive and insensitive – it may not even make sense to the listener.
Personal responsibility is often an overlooked personality trait that many have yet to achieve. It isn’t something that one decides to do voluntarily, rather, it is something we discover once we acknowledge our own power and realize the impact of our actions.
One of the reasons why accountability is so important is that it shows you know how to take ownership and by doing so, you get to control your outcomes – whether positive or negative.
Here are some simple yet fool-proof methods on how to cultivate accountability and take control of your life!
- Write It Down
No matter how big or small the activity or chore is, writing down your responsibilities is proven to be effective. When you write things down, both parts of your brain are activated – the imaginative right hemisphere and the logic-based left hemisphere. As we now carry our smartphones around like an extended limb, you can even write it down on your Notes app or as a widget you can see every time you look at your phone. There are so many distractions around us that make it is easy for the brain to forget your responsibilities – give it a break and just write it down!
- Set Realistic Goals and Expectations
When you set unrealistic expectations and commitments, it is more likely that you would fall short and fail. This would, in turn, cause you to feel demotivated, give up and feel bad about yourself. Keeping your promises straightforward and realistic is a safer method to ensure you reach your targets and move forward.
- Momentum Is Key
Building momentum is a vital factor in your personal accountability and responsibility journey. Try this: each time you complete a task, attempt a slightly bigger task afterward and move on from there. For example, starting with a small task like drinking a cup of water after you wake up every day to build up confidence. After completing the task, celebrate your ‘win’, and with each win, you’ll be more self-assured and more likely complete the next task. In time, add more habits you’d like to include such as a 5-minute yoga session before you shower, etc. Before you know it, you’ll have habits you thought were impossible at the start of your journey!
Every day is an opportunity to do things a little bit better than you did the day before. Accountability allows us to take ownership and improve our lives – we are then able to be comfortable and take responsibility without shifting the blame.
Although being accountable and taking responsibility might feel overwhelming, it’s interesting how quickly you will discover that ultimately, you are in control. And that is is truly empowering.
Similar to the Yin and Yang, of how two opposites complement each other to make a whole, there is a shadow-side to everything in life – especially in ourselves. Everyone exhibits some form of toxic behaviour. We are only human after all. But what’s important is that we educate ourselves rather than ignore it and continue acting the same away. If you’re ready to be honest and accountable, to be a better version of yourself, we invite you to read on!
What are the common toxic traits?
Some common toxic traits include:
- Being Judgemental
Having standards and not settling for less is one thing, but if you find yourself judging someone because of tiny, minuscule things that don’t define their character – start acknowledging that and actively stopping yourself. Otherwise, it usually implies a hidden or open desire to control or change someone.
When something bad happens to you – are you quick to blame everything around you, including yourself? It’s normal to experience bad days, but when your mind only answers and listens in a negative tone, you won’t be able to appreciate anything in your life.
In a nutshell, to ‘gaslight’ is to invalidate and/or downplay other’s emotions. Gaslighting often occurs when you listen to counter and not listen to understand. Some examples of gaslighting phrases include:
- “Relax, why can’t you just take a joke?”
- “You’re being too sensitive.”
- “You’re crazy to think that!”
- “This is why nobody likes you.”
Using mental tricks for your own personal gain is considered manipulation. Examples of manipulative ways are:
- Guilting someone into doing something for you.
- Exploiting the emotions of others.
- Using the ‘I’m a victim’ card as an excuse.
- Being ignorant of others’ emotions and feelings.
- Disregarding the consequences of their actions.
If any of these sound familiar, it could be time for you to step back and start taking responsibility for your behaviour.
How can I improve?
The first step is to acknowledge your toxic traits and areas of improvement. This could be done by nurturing self-awareness. You can do this by:
- Being brutally honest with yourself.
Recognise and admit to your negative traits.
- Being curious about who you are.
Ask yourself, “What are the qualities I’m putting out there?”, “Why do I do something a certain way?”.
- Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes when in conflict.
Viewing the situation from the other party’s perspective will help you understand them better and manage your emotions. In turn, this will change your actions and lead to a better outcome.
- Reflecting on your emotions and actions.
Review your actions and emotions through journaling or mediation, and reflect to see if you can improve the situation in the future.
When you notice your toxic traits and begin the process of realising how your trauma affects your behaviour, you can start amending and improving your personality. However, if you continue to recycle your pain, the cycles of the same situation will happen again.
Psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich offers a piece of advice, “Working on your self-awareness will put you ahead of 80 percent of your colleagues. It is the secret ingredient. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do it quickly – be open to what people tell you so that you can make a significant improvement.”
Start becoming aware of your own toxic traits, even if they’re ingrained in niceness. It’ll move you a step closer towards self-acceptance and self-love!