In my attempts to deal with my mental health issues I’ve learned the importance of empathy. I’ve always tried to be a kind, compassionate person. Yet it’s the development of empathy in my life that has caused me to grow the most.
In doing so, I learned to put myself in the shoes of others. At a prior job I had a manager who was quite cruel. She yelled at others. (Never me, though. For some reason she liked me.) She would scream at them and lose her cool on a weekly basis. People couldn’t stand her. It was easier for me to handle because I never came under direct fire from her. Yet when I heard stories of her flying off the handle I thought, “What happened to her to cause her to be so mean? What kind of emotional trauma did she undergo? Or what was her life like that she never learned to communicate her frustration in a productive way?”
While not wanting to minimize the emotional impact her outbursts had on my co-workers, I also tried identifying the hurt she may have experienced that caused her to behave in the manner she did.
While not blinded to the fact that cruelty seems baked into the DNA of some people, I’m also ready and willing to give others the benefit of the doubt. Some of this comes from my own experiences. From my studies of history I learned violence and struggle don’t appear out of nowhere. People have undergone pain and frustration that gives rise to their actions.
The sooner we can accept that we are individuals with flaws who make mistakes, the sooner we can accept others and their mistakes. Bitterness and anger magnifies in our lives while kindness and empathy often can bring a like return.
But how does having empathy for others help with my own mental health? As I learned to empathize with others I realized that to do so also meant I had to do the same for myself. I wasn’t an exception to the rule of trying to understand others’ pain. I had my own experiences I had to put in context. I needed to understand that the reasons I was irritable were because of my depression and fears. I learned that was okay and to forgive myself for having those feelings of frustration with others.
I also learned it was fine to cut myself some slack, as I would for others who were going through difficult times. While not excusing my mean or immature behavior, I also put it in context and understand why it happened. Empathy, then, returns dividends not only for relationships with others but with the connection we have with ourselves.
This process was not quick and easy. I had to let fall many walls in my life and be honest and acknowledge I was worthwhile. But I want to be a kind, caring person. Yet it’s hypocritical to offer love to others but withdraw it for myself. So I had to take that leap and acknowledge that my kindness and empathy needed given to all people, even me. Acknowledging that everyone deserved empathy gave me permission to begin to put my attitude in perspective. Knowing that everyone needed empathy—and finally acknowledging that meant me, too—opened me up to the beginning of going easy on myself.
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This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.