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Is empathy a thing of the past?

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Feeling heard and understood is a human need.

Have you ever needed someone to talk to who just understands? You were looking for empathy. Empathy is how we connect with others. Essentially, empathy is recognizing and understanding the thoughts and feelings of someone else. Empathy is an important part of our relationship with others. Furthermore, empathy is an important part of our relationship with ourselves. By getting in touch with our own emotions, we can learn to understand others’ emotions. This allows us to see things from their point of view.

Empathy is important.

As mentioned earlier, feeling heard and understood is one of the most basic human desires. We crave an authentic connection—a connection where we can be our true selves without feeling judged. Empathy allows us to connect and build strong relationships.

Furthermore, empathy plays an important role in our moral compass. Empathy is similar to compassion. When we have compassion for other people’s feelings, we are more likely to act in a way that does not hurt them. Without empathy, without compassion, we are often more focused on how we feel and receive things than on how our words or actions may be received. However, the difference between empathy and compassion is action. Empathy is passive, meaning we connect to one’s feelings. Compassion, on the other hand, is active, meaning we choose to act to help someone. For example, empathy is “I am sorry for your loss” because I have been there too and know what it is like to lose a loved one. On the other hand, compassion is empathy plus I am going to start a meal train for you to take off the pressure of feeding your family for a few weeks.

Empathy is not sympathy.

Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably. However, empathy and sympathy are very different terms. Unlike compassion and empathy, sympathy is not about understanding someone’s feelings. Rather, sympathy is about feeling sad for someone else who is struggling. Sympathy is simply, “I am sorry for your loss.” Whereas, empathy was “I am sorry” because I can relate to your feelings. And, compassion was, “I am sorry, I have been there too, I am going to help you.”

When we are struggling, we often desire empathy and / or compassion, not necessarily sympathy. Sympathy is not a connection. And, at the base of all human need is the desire for connection.

Are we raising a generation without empathy?

Social media has blessed us with the ability to connect with anyone from anywhere around the world with the touch of a button. Unfortunately, social media has also provided us with the ability to communicate without seeing how people receive our content. Therefore, we have a whole generation learning to communicate based solely on their own point of view and no ability to see the other person’s reaction. We also have the power to push our energy into other people’s lives. Think about the mean comments people write, including to people they do not know. This has created a sense of entitlement where we believe that other people should receive our energy, even if its negative energy filled with hate and pain.

With the benefits and the drawbacks of social media, the question at hand is “is empathy a thing of the past?”

My opinion.

Empathy is a trait that many of us are born with. Empathy can also be learned through emotional training. Many of us are naturally empathetic, but that empathy is not being cultivated. For example, we spend most of our time communicating behind screens. Especially since March 2020, most of us have been primarily virtual. Over the past year, we engaged with screens more than we did with other human beings, face to face. Imagine growing up with that same scenario, where 90% of your communication is done through a screen—think phones, social media, school computers, television, video games. The world around you is you and a screen that allows access to the whole world.

The next generation is not growing up without empathy. Instead, this generation is growing up in a world that discourages the cultivation of empathy. There is no chance to truly connect, not with ourselves and not with others. Because of the amazing advantages technology and social media have provided us, we have started to forget the importance of building deeper connections. Furthermore, we have not been exposed to seeing the fallout of a lack of empathy behind a computer screen. When we press “send,” we do not see the person, how they receive it, or how it affects them.

Remember, feeling heard and understood is a human need. Social media can help bring us closer to people who also understand us. Social media can also bring us closer to people who choose to be mean and share content without thinking. Therefore, social media itself is not the problem, but rather the lack of true connection is.

Empathy is not a thing of the past; empathy is a very much alive. Thus, it is essential we start encouraging ourselves, our loved ones, and the younger generation to connect with the person on the other end of the screen—not simply the screen itself.

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What does it mean to prioritize your mental health?

smiling woman wearing a sun hat and reading a book

Do you believe in the mind body connection?

We prioritize our physical health. As children, we often receive annual wellness check-ups and see a doctor whenever we start to feel sick. We are taught the importance of exercise, good hygiene, and a balanced diet. When we break a bone, we go to the doctor. We do not say “think positive, walk it off, or get over it”.

Our mental health is not treated with the same value as our physical health. Mental health is rarely prioritized. Self-care and self-love are often labeled as selfish. Yet, your mind is a key player in your overall health. A healthy mindset improves many physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, low immune system, chest pain, and more! Still, we lack an emphasis on cultivating our own mental health.

Why should we prioritize our mental health?

When you prioritize your mental health, you engage in self-care that stimulates inner peace, inner happiness, and self-love. You continuously practice and develop new coping mechanisms. And, you learn how to forgive yourself. More than that, you show yourself compassion and understanding. You provide your mind and body with space and time to relax, to heal, and to grow.

Just like with our physical health, taking care of our mental health is important. We are focused on being the “perfect support” for everyone around us. As a result, we push ourselves and our mental health to the back burner. The paradox is that in order to be the support our loved ones need and deserve, in order to be the best version of ourselves, we have to put time and energy into cultivating our mental health. Therefore, it is important to value your mind as much as you value your body. Furthermore, it is important to spend as much time and energy caring for your mind as you do your body.

Your mental health affects how you feel, think, and act. Unlike when you feel sick or when you break a bone, it is not always as easy to recognize the warning signs within your mind. Often times, our mental health has declined a significant amount before we have recognized it. Furthermore, our mental health can dramatically affect our relationship with our loved ones and with ourselves. Therefore, we have to prioritize cultivating our mental health every day.

A few of the many ways you can prioritize your mental health.

Make time for yourself. This can be as simple as spending 30 minutes reading a book or journaling in the morning. This could also be taking a quick walk or meditating during the day. Spend some time alone with yourself and learn to love the moments of silence.

Do things that bring you joy. The week can feel very long and stressful. There is a lot going on in your world and the world around you. You do not have to sit in all the trauma and fear all of the time. Try to dedicate at least 1 hour a week doing 1 thing that you really enjoy, something that brings you joy, and makes you happy to be alive.

Check in with yourself. How are you really? What are you feeling right now? What kind of headspace are you in? How can you allow your mind some space and time to rejuvenate? What can you do for your mental exhaustion? Which coping mechanisms would be helpful right now? Be honest with yourself. Lying to yourself will only hurt you in the long run.

Listen to your body. Is your body starting to feel tired? Are you constantly running on empty? Honor your body. Acknowledge the stress put on it. When your body needs rest, allow yourself to rest. Taking a nap is not “being lazy,” it is preventing a burnout that takes an extended period of time away from work, school, and / or your day to day.

Listen to your mind. What are you telling yourself? Are you putting yourself down? Are you upsetting yourself? Why are you telling yourself negative things? Listen to what you are telling yourself, become aware of it, and counter it with positives. Treat yourself with the same love and kindness you would a friend.

Pay attention to your feelings. What are you feeling? Where is that feeling stemming from? Pay attention to how these feelings are affecting your mind and body. How are you reacting? What coping mechanisms can you use to validate yourself while simultaneously comforting yourself? Remember, it is okay to not be okay. But, also remember that there are coping mechanisms and resources available to help you through the hard times.

Fining a safe place where you feel content. This can be an actual physical space or an image within your mind. When the world feels overwhelming, when our symptoms are too much to handle, connecting to your happy place can provide a sense of calming. Maybe this place will comfort you, motivate you, inspire you, or help you escape for a few moments.

I will leave you with this thought: Prioritizing your mental health validates you as a human being. If you do not validate and prioritize yourself, who will?

“If I wait for someone else to validate my existence, it will mean that I am shortchanging myself.”

Zanele Muholi

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Self-Love: Selfish or Selfless?

self care isn t selfish signage

“The greatest love of all is easy to achieve

Learning to love yourself

It is the greatest love of all.”

Whitney Houston, The Greatest Love of All

A question that has been long debated is whether or not self-love is selfish. We live in a world that repeatedly tells us how loving ourselves is the definition of selfishness. In fact, did you know that when you look up synonyms for self-love, you will find the following words?

  • Egotism
  • Selfishness
  • Egocentricity
  • Narcissism

From a young age, we are often taught that loving ourselves is putting ourselves before others. And, putting ourselves before others is bad. If you put yourself before others, you are selfish. But what if the world is not that black and white?

Let us look at self-love from a different perspective. Right now, let us define self-love as simply accepting yourself and prioritizing your own happiness and well-being. This does not mean prioritizing yourself over others by refusing to help or support someone else, but simply, working hard to achieve inner peace and happiness.

If we learn how to accept ourselves for who we are, we are able to work on cultivating that inner peace and happiness that we deserve. Within that happiness, we no longer feel the desire to prove ourselves to others. This helps us to live more authentically. When we are our authentic selves, we are able to offer more to others. Through the love and understanding we found within us, we are able to extend that same love and understand to others, in the form of empathy and compassion.

So, what if self-love meant that we did not view ourselves as better than others, but simply as important as others? What if self-love meant the following?

  • We simply see ourselves for who we are and are proud of who we are, instead of telling ourselves all of the reasons we are not enough.
  • We acknowledge and validate our thoughts, feelings, experiences, and traumas, instead of invalidating important pieces of our lives.

I will leave you with this, what do we take away from others by also loving ourselves?