Going through grief is difficult after losing a loved one, so it’s important for one to have a trusted support system. If you know someone who is experiencing a loss, you’d want to be supportive – but you may not always understand the best way to do so. Instead of taking pity or having sympathy for those who have lost someone, research has shown that there is another way you can look at things and offer support.
What’s the difference between sympathy and empathy?
When you feel sorry for someone’s situation, this emotion can be described as sympathy. A common way for people to express their sympathies is by sending a sympathy card or flowers to the funeral service.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand someone’s feelings. And during a time of loss, learning how to be empathetic can allow the mourner to feel a little more love and a little less lonely when dealing with their grief. Trying to “feel” someone else’s pain requires more effort than giving sympathy to someone’s situation – oftentimes when people are struggling, they long for empathy.
When someone is already in an emotionally fragile state, being empathetic enables you to be more sensitive in what you say. Here are three ways you can take note of to show your support in an empathetic manner.
Put yourself in their shoes
We have all heard of the familiar adage – you won’t know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. While you may not be in a similar position to experience grief as someone else, there is no doubt you can imagine what it would feel like to be in their situation. Take on their perspective and display compassion to them, as you would hope others would do in the event that you experience a loss.
Stay out of judgement
As humans, we can be naturally judgemental, and this means making assumptions without knowing the reasons or thoughts behind a person’s action or backstory. Perhaps you feel that the mourner is not reacting in the way that you think they should. However, grief is highly personal and everyone experiences them in a unique way. Rather than expressing judgment, approach them with an open mind and heart, instead of making comments that infer their emotions or response was invalid or wrong.
Communicate and demonstrate care
To display empathy, it is crucial that you choose your words carefully to display sensitivity and support, instead of unsolicited advice or judgement. If it has been weeks and someone is still visibly sad, you may wish to offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Empathy is about caring, thus, demonstrate to the person you care so they feel seen, heard and truly cared for.
Developing your empathetic ability might take some time and effort, but the secret is to stay out of judgement and acknowledge what others are feeling. Let them know they are supported and how they feel matters to you – which can go a long way in understanding them and what they are going through.