Based on Brene Brown’s research empathy is the key component in fighting shame. The majority of the girls I work with have shame-prone thinking. Shame-prone thinking is highly correlated with depression, suicidal ideation, substances use/abuse and eating disorders. The best way to overcome shame is to talk about it with people we trust who can give us empathy. The underlying message with shame is there is something about us that makes us unlovable or undeserving of connection. If we can talk about these fears and receive empathy in return we no longer feel alone or unlovable. In that moment, the shaming message of “I am undeserving of love and connection” is disproven.  Empathy builds connections and creates deeper relationships of trust.

Empathy is a much-needed element in order to feel connected and heard.  Empathy, the ability to feel what the other person is feeling, sounds pretty easy to do. However, in order to be truly empathic and be with the person in their emotions is tricky. As a therapist I find myself, at times, struggling to be truly empathetic; I can only image how difficult this can be for parents of the girls I work with.  Let’s talk about how to do empathy right. Theresa Wiseman, a nursing scholar, noted four attributes of empathy:

  1. Perspective taking
  2. Stay out of judgment
  3. Recognize emotions
  4. Communication

Alone, each attribute is pretty easy, but when put all together can be challenging.

Perspective taking refers to walking in the other person’s shoes and trying to think like them.

Staying out of judgment means not making comments that infer their emotions or response was invalid or wrong. Such as, “that’s stupid. Why did you get so upset?”

Recognizing the emotion is looking within yourself and identifying that feeling the other person could be feeling. It’s okay to check it out with them ask if you’ve got it. For example, you could say, “Sounds like you are feeling sad.”

Communication refers to being expressive about understanding their emotion and validating them.

Here’s a great short clip of Brene Brown talking about these attributes of empathy.

Written by Megan Belcher, CSW

Additional Resources on Empathy: