Do You Have Empathy for Others?
Many people I meet and treat engage in emotional eating because the people in their lives have little empathy for them or others. Empathy is a basic human feeling, perhaps the glue to holding us together as community. If you don’t have it from the people with whom you surround yourself, you might end up feeling more upset than you need to be and that may drive your emotional eating. So, consider this blog a primer on empathy.
Here is what it is not, although you’d need to have empathy in order to feel the following emotions. It’s not compassion which is feeling kindness or kindly towards someone’s suffering. You need not feel kindness in order to have empathy, but you need empathy to feel kindness. It is also not sympathy which is feeling sorrow (we call it feeling sorry) that someone is experiencing pain.
According to nutritionist Ellen Glovsky, PhD, RD, LDN, (nutrition-coach.com), writing about the importance of empathy for clinicians, it is “. . . simply the demonstration of a keen but neutral curiosity for the patient’s ideas and attitudes regarding all sides of the behavior change being proposed. In this setting, empathy refers to the idea that you “get” the other person. You really understand their point of view about this proposed change. And you have the ability to communicate that understanding.” Translating her description to non-clinical situations, it’s what folks mean when they say, “I feel ya.”
Empathy does not mean that what the other person feels is healthy or beneficial. It’s a way of saying that we’re all human. For example, I was talking with a client who said she had terrible thoughts in her head about other people, especially when they cut her off driving. I empathized with her thoughts, normalizing them, without condoning her desire to run them off the road which she would never do. I wasn’t there to approve or disapprove of her reaction but to acknowledge it.
Empathy, as Glovsky stresses, is a neutral feeling. When couples argue away in my office, which happens frequently, I need to empathize with what each partner is feeling although I may be more biased toward the viewpoint of one than the other. In fact, I may be appalled at what one of them is saying, but it’s my job to understand and validate it.
You know whether or not you feel empathy coming from someone. It feels as if you’re both on the same page. Try to surround yourself with folks who are empathic without yessing you to death. Practice being more empathic with others, especially those you are close to but disagree with. Both behaviors may make relationships go more smoothly which should decrease your upset and desire to comfort yourself with food.