Empathy and Resilient Relationships

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about reaching out for resilience. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

Last week, we discovered that resilient folks typically have strong, supportive relationships because they know how to reach out for connection with others in moments of adversity. Reaching out can broaden our perspective, mobilize purposeful action, build resilience, and strengthen our relationships (1)! 

Yes, reaching out can make us feel vulnerable, but a willingness to reach out for connection also builds trust and intimacy in our relationships providing a strong safety net in times of adversity (1). Remember, everyone has imperfections, and no one likes to feel alone.

Not to be confused with inappropriate self-disclosure, reaching out works best in tandem with emotional regulation, realistic optimism, and impulse control (1). People who reach out do three things well: #1: They’re accurate and solution oriented problem solvers. #2: They know themselves well and are comfortable expressing themselves. #3: They often find a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in their lives due to their increased connection and broadened perspective (1).

Did you take my invitation last week and pause to think about how someone you trust could help you in a moment of adversity? Then, did you give them an opportunity to help you by reaching out? I hope so. If you did, check in with yourself - how did it go? And what did it feel like to reach out for help?

It’s not always easy to reach out and ask for help, yet as we have seen it can be very beneficial. Thankfully, like the other cultivated skills of resilience, reaching out to ask for help gets easier with practice. 

This week, I want to spend some more time talking about resilient relationships and look at how we respond to others in moments of adversity. 

What matters is perceived support.

Perceived support is key for positive outcomes and successful relationships (2). When we share our stories in a trusted relationship, we give the other person an opportunity support us. It’s a bid to obtain understanding, validation and caring (2). The reverse is also true. When someone is sharing their story with you, they are giving you an opportunity to provide understanding, validation, and caring. Let’s take a closer look...

Perceived support consists of three things:

  1. I believe you understand me. (I feel seen. You know my qualities, opinions, goals, emotions, needs…)
  2. I think you value, respect, and validate me. (I feel appreciated.) 
  3. I perceive that you care about and support me. (I see your kind actions.)

Perceived support is both personal and dynamic. Just as our needs change in a given situation, so do the needs of our friends, family members, and partners. 

And the way we respond matters. 

How well do you understand the nonverbal communication of others? Tone of voice? Facial Expressions? Body Language? These are all cues to how someone else is thinking and feeling. Tuning into someone else and using our human ability to “take a walk in another’s shoes” is empathy. And empathy is yet another skill of resilience!

Being able to accept another’s feelings and acknowledge them is key to empathy (1). Please take three minutes to watch this short video. Brené Brown does a beautiful job of explaining empathy. 

We all long to feel understood, valued, and cared for (2). Our ability to show empathy impacts our our connections with others and builds resilient relationships. While the inability to show empathy can be costly in both personal and professional relationships (1). 

Even when well intentioned, putting a silver lining on a friend, family member, or partner’s adversity can wind up making them feel unheard or undervalued. When someone you care for is going through moment of adversity, it is easy to feel like an optimistic viewpoint could be helpful. Take a moment to remember that it is vulnerable to be hurting. A listening ear and empathetic response will promote bonding and connection. As Brené Brown said in her video, “Rarely, if ever, does an empathetic response begin with ‘at least’.”

Empathy is critical to maintaining longterm close relationships (1). Folks who are low in empathy tend to ‘bulldoze’ others’ emotions even if they are well intentioned. Thankfully, empathy is a skill that can be developed which will foster connection with others and build resilient relationships. 

How well do you listen when someone is sharing their world with you? 

When we fail to listen…  

We miss opportunities.

If you’re like most folks, you tend to listen with the question of ‘How does this effect me?’ in the back of your mind. This week, I invite you to try other focused listening. The next time someone is sharing a difficult moment with you, put yourself in the role of the listener, and ask yourself - 

“Why is this important to them?”

Take in their non-verbal cues, practice empathy. Let them know that you hear them, that you see them, and that you care about them. Aim to offer the kind of support that will make them feel understood, valued and cared for and build resilient relationships.

I look forward to seeing you again next week as we continue our journey to resilience. Until then, I hope you enjoy your week!

Gratitude for the expertise in Brené Brown’s video on Empathy and the following resources.

References

1. Reivich, K, Shatté, A. The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life's hurdles. Random House Digital, Inc; 2003.

2. Reis, H, Shaver, P. Intimacy as an interpersonal process. In S. Duck & D. F. Hay (Eds.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research, and interventions (pp. 367–389). New York: Wiley; 1988.