It can be tough to develop empathy, especially to someone you don’t like. Whether its your boss, significant other or friends, sometimes not everyone will like you and you will not like them as well. That’s life. And even more horrible is when you develop spats with your family members, as it can create a distance between you and your families. I’m sure you don’t want to grow old and look back with regret over that heated debate that leaves you and your family member grow apart?
Studies have shown that there are many health benefits of developing empathy, including prosocial behavior, social closeness and improved clinical outcomes for patients. Myriam Mongrain, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, Canada, gives us a few steps we can implement to help us emphatise with people whose personalities, beliefs or conduct that may not be agreeable to us, and here they are:
If you find someone’s values are offensive to you, try and understand the basic emotions underlying their values. Understanding their primal feelings such as fear, desire to survive, and fear of missing out for example, will humanise them and make them more relatable to you.
Think about their background
It is better to think about that person in their cultural environment, which will need curiosity -- one of the vital components of empathy-- to inform yourself about the historical, familial, and cultural environments underlying their style, character and beliefs. The older generation, as an example, has a different history and experiences during their younger days. They grew up with unique set of doctrines that set their worldview as they grow up. So when you start to look at someone’s life in a full context, how they behave and what they believe will starts to make sense.
Don’t judge someone based on their beliefs
Mongrain says that whatever your belief is, they are a part of you but they are not the sum total of who you are. If you hold the view that your beliefs define who you are, it’s going to be hard for you to empathise with someone who disagree with you, because it will feel like an attack on your entire being.
Surprise someone you don’t like by making a nice gesture
If there is someone near you that you’re not particularly keen on, try not to surrender to your dislike. Surprise him or her with a cup of coffee or sweet treats that they like. It will change the dynamic and have the possibility to melt the frost between you.
Don’t forget that we are all the same in the end
Mongrain says that all of us are striving for the same things basically: to avoid suffering and to maximise our happiness. Fundamentally, we are all struggling for the same things, so when you understand that, the resentment towards other vanishes, as you realise how alike you all are.