Just like how it takes a neighbourhood to raise a child, it takes a community to support individuals who are navigating their lives with mental health challenges. You may be playing the role of a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend or even a professional in this community. Regardless of the role you are playing, part of the support one could give to them is to be an empathetic listener. However, an encounter with someone in emotional distress can trigger both empathic care as well as empathic distress. Hence, in order to support you who might be supporting individuals coping with their mental health, here are 3 tips that might be able to help you keep empathetic care in the forefront when listening.
Tip 1: Begin with the zero step
In the understanding and practice of compassionate communication, the zero step highlights the underlying premise that the intention we each bring to every interaction matters. When we set an intention to be present and to connect, we have to first set that intention with ourselves. This will help us connect with the other person and shift our energy to where we experience heightened awareness, openness, curiosity and empathy.
One way to practice the zero step is to bring attention to your intention and readiness of being present in a conversation. Here are some guiding questions you can ask yourself:
● What is actually happening?
● What feelings are arising from this situation?
● Who needs what right now?
● What might help?
Tip 2: Meet empathic distress with empathic care
It is possible to experience empathic distress when you are listening and connecting to a person who is struggling. This happens when you get overwhelmed or weighed down by their emotions, recognising their sufferings as your own. If left unaddressed, this experience may gradually build up to a point where you may start to feel empathy fatigue. You may even have thoughts of giving up, walking away or unloading your distress on the person who needs support.
An effective way to counterbalance the negative effect of empathic distress is to meet it with empathic care. Empathic care helps us to meet another person’s sufferings with an open heart, with tenderness and courage while not letting their sufferings overwhelm us. We can activate our empathic care by calling forth positive feelings through the visualisation of a loved one, offering ourselves a soothing touch and saying a few words of loving-kindness.
Tip 3: Keep your reservoir full
Like all things, supporting a person who is struggling with mental health takes time, effort and energy. This journey is a marathon and not a sprint. Hence, it is important that we have a sustainable reservoir of empathy and compassion to be with them on this journey.
By making the practice of the skills of compassion for self a daily habit, we can ensure that our compassion tank remains full for both ourselves and the ones we care deeply for.
This is a blog collaboration project between Now.Here. and Samaritans of Singapore to offer key insights and practical skills as preventive and supportive measures towards suicidal thoughts for the World Suicide Prevention Day.
This article is contributed by Now.Here., a social enterprise that empowers people with the skills of compassion to experience happiness, flourish and contribute to a better world. Visit them at www.now-here.global.
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