For some of us, empathy is reflexive – almost like breathing. We are biologically hardwired to be more sensitive to external stimuli picking up cues from our environment. Specifically, we observe, store, and recall verbal and non-verbal cues from people and our environment that many won’t even notice. These neurological signals help us to relate and share others’ emotional and mental states.
Acting on all of it may be too costly in terms of time, energy, or dependence. We can empathize with someone’s distress and want to extend some form of help, but cannot be overtaken by it.
At the other extreme, there are work cultures, managers, and leaders whose lack of empathy is bruising – especially, when we are already feeling wounded.
Empathy researcher Jamil Zaki has shown through years of research that one of the best ways to boost our own sense of self is to show up for others. A sense of purpose, including meaning, self-worth, esteem, and connection can be achieved when we care for ourselves as well as others.
How we think about empathy and compassion will either increase or decrease our subjective well-being. It takes practice to find the right balance for each of us. Consciousness is individual awareness of our unique thoughts, memories, feelings, and environments.
Being mindful as these occur increases awareness as our conscious experiences are constantly shifting. This is why conscious empathy can help us to avoid emotional overwhelm and help us to change our habits and reinforce learning as we do.
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