EMPATHY is the ability to notice, sense, and understand the experiences of others. Empathy can be understood as consisting of a number steps, each related to a skill that can be learned.

1. Empathy begins with the ability to center yourself and notice what you are thinking and feeling in the moment. We tend to assume that others are thinking and feeling the way we are. It is difficult to understand that the other person may have very different thoughts and feelings than we have. It is important to step out of our own mind-set and feelings in order to communicate on a deeper and more meaningful level with others.

2. Understanding the shared social and cultural context that gives the situation meaning. It is common for people in familiar situations to take the social context for granted and forget that it could be influencing the experience of others. In other words, I may experience the context as one inviting intimate communication. The person I am with may feel that the context is inhibiting to deeper intimate communication.

3. What beliefs about yourself, the other person, and the world are you bringing into the situation. These beliefs shape what you expect to see and whether you see the other as normal or abnormal as measured by your expectations. You are bringing beliefs into the situation that can be projected onto the other person. What you are projecting upon the other person may or may not fit who the person really is.

4. To what degree can you step out of your own experience and mindset and just notice the other person –just be aware of the other person’ point of view.

5. How skilled are you at expressing to the other person, both verbally and non-verbally your genuine responses to who they are and what they are doing. Genuine expressions can be both emotionally and understood intellectual.

The level of empathy increases as you become better at being accurately aware of the here-and-now experiences of others, being aware and showing your own here-and-now experiences to others, and communicating clearly and without pre-judgment about how you are experiencing the other person.

Empathy can both make us more vulnerable because we show others who we are in both our strengths and our weaknesses. Intimacy can also make us seem more threatening because the person we are talking with feels that their strengths and weaknesses are visible to you.

The level of Intimacy us the ability to share close honest human experiences with others. It is directly related to the levels of shared intimacy.

The level of genuine trust requires high levels of shared intimacy. As a result, intimacy skills are central to building and maintaining close and trusting relationships.

Gorski Books: www.relapse.orgl

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