Recently I have spent quite a bit of time on forums dedicated to people who struggle with various forms of anxiety. While most of the exchange I have observed and been a part of have been encouraging, I couldn’t help but notice an unhealthy trend. Specifically I am speaking to people’s tendency to seek and render pandering to and from each other. So in this post, I am going to outline the difference been having empathy for another human being and pandering to another human being.
Empathy is the practice of placing yourself in someone’s position, particularly having to do with a misfortune and imagining how you would genuinely feel if you found yourself in such a circumstance.
Let’s say I come across an amputee, while I can never fully understand what life as an amputee would be like, placing myself in the person’s situation, I could easily come to appreciate the desire to be treated and regarded with dignity from others. For example, understanding that staring at the amputated area could be considered disrespectful.
If someone in that situation where to seek counseling from me, in regards to his difficulty adjusting to the emotional strain of daily living after the amputation, the extent of my empathy would be acknowledgement of his current hardships.
After which I would focus on his strengths and what he has control over. In focusing on these variables, I would guide him towards developing practical solutions for some of his hardships, while acknowledging his need to grieve.
This is what empathy looks like when applied. Now take the same example of the an amputee seeking counseling and say instead of empathizing, I pandered to the person.
If I pandered to such a person, I would encourage him to become angered and perhaps enraged at others who have not been sympathetic towards him and his situation.
Every time the person where to bring up a conflict he has experienced and is deeply upset about, I will never encourage him to explore his own role in the conflict, instead I will focus on the audacity of others to upset him. If the client has any shortcomings, or reports engagement in any irresponsible behavior, I would offer plausible thinking errors to help explain away the irresponsible behavior. With all the errors centered around his recent amputation.
This is the difference between showing empathy and pandering. Now there are some who may be worried about coming across as being judgmental, when their true intent was to be helpful. A work around this concern, is to focus on people’s strengths, people are less likely to get offended after you have acknowledge an empowering attribute about themselves.
To change our realities, we have to first change our thinking.
My book, “How to End Your Panic Attacks” will be out on Kindle by April 25th 2014.