Why is it worth being self-empathetic?

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Empathy is a concept that has become popular in recent years and its importance is still growing. It is possible that the changes taking place around us and in us, as well as the many shared experiences of recent years, have made us understand others better and created the need to be closer. We say that being empathetic makes it easier for us to understand others’ feelings.

As Brene Brown writes in “Atlas of the heart”, empathy is the most powerful compassion tool, an emotional skill set that allows us to understand what someone else is experiencing and to reflect back that understanding. And although the empathetic approach is often not easy for us, we see that it helps us get to know others, learn more about their thoughts, feelings, and actions, and get to the source of the matter.

Empathy as a business skill

However, empathy has also got its place in the business world, especially in the area of customer experience design. It is the basis for many ways of thinking, and methods for finding solutions, such as Design Thinking. In this methodology, also belonging to the field of human-centered design, the point of business activities is a thorough knowledge and understanding of the user’s needs.

No one creates a solution until they deeply understand what the customer needs: who he is, what he does, says, thinks, and feels, and what are his beliefs, experiences, behaviors, and habits. Did you know that IKEA, when entering new markets, visited the inhabitants of individual countries in their homes to observe their behavior, habits, and lifestyle? What for? To design the best and most tailored solutions, to hear and see what the client will not say.

The first step – start with yourself

So what if… to become such an IKEA employee towards yourself? To learn self-empathy? To develop the habit of listening, feeling, and observing yourself. Ask yourself questions: What do I think, feel, what do I do? What frustrates me, what makes me happy? To look at yourself from the side?

Lidewij Niezink, Ph.D., and Katherine Train, Ph.D., independent scholars, and practitioners focused on the development of empathy say that the first step to being empathetic is self-empathy: (…) when you are feeling challenged and misunderstood yourself, empathizing with someone else is difficult. And if you are not aware of your own inner experience, and emotional and mental state, how can you be sure that that which you perceive to be part of the other, is not rather a projection of your self upon them? That is why the first step towards empathizing with someone else is to empathize with yourself (…)

Empathy for ourselves works in the same way as empathy for others – it prevents us from being too harsh on ourselves. However, this does not mean indulgence, avoiding responsibility for mistakes, or the need to apologize if we let someone down. Self-empathy is an acknowledgment that we also need and deserve care and understanding. Practicing this approach teaches us to treat others this way.

Benefits of self-empathy

The habits we create to be better for ourselves work for other people over time. I know it by myself from the experience of working with the Design Thinking methodology – there I learned to look at the world empathetically and put myself in someone else’s shoes. It is interesting that according to the book “The empathy effect: 7 Neuroscience-Based Keys for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work, and Connect Across Differences, written by Helen Ries”, self-empathetic people less often than self-critical people spend time lying on the couch and doing “nothing”.

Personality tests indicate a strong correlation between self-empathy and positive traits such as creative thinking, life satisfaction, motivation, resilience, and empathy for others. On the other hand, those who often find fault with themselves, do not treat themselves with care and are strongly associated with such traits as anger, depression, anxiety, and lower satisfaction with life. So there is something true in the saying that the way we treat ourselves often shows in the way we treat others.

Make it your habit

Self-empathy practices can be different. Starting from the simplest ones, such as

  • having daily conversations with yourself as with your best friend,
  • asking yourself in-depth questions (e.g. 5x why?),
  • writing a journal or letters to yourself, 
  • through practicing mindfulness,
  • using training and courses,
  • using support and help specialists.

But as K. Train, Ph.D. writes all require a similar reflective presence: noticing, accepting responsibility, suspending judgment, setting intentions, and attending to others. I won’t tell you which one to choose – you have to discover and decide for yourself. I just want to encourage you to start with even the smallest step, with one question to yourself per day, and make it a habit – the habit of self-empathizing.

Its regular practice will help, above all, to understand yourself, your feelings, states, emotions, and increase mindfulness. This will help you to be more empathetic toward others. Self-empathy also allows you to make decisions in harmony with yourself, with your values, and in peace. Thanks to this, you can build your further path based on what is really important to you.

Self-empathy is courage. Courage is taking a step to be a bit better and live authentically.

So, do you want to become an IKEA worker for yourself?