We often hear about the importance of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes to understand and empathize with their circumstances. Etiquette-fully, the first thing to remember is that we all make mistakes, suffer pain, can be joyful, and that each of us is quite unique in all the world.
To imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes and to feel and see the world from their point of view is one way of helping you to withhold judgement of them. At the same time, it is also a way for you to offer comfort and show that you care.
Depending on the issue at hand, imagining yourself in the place of someone else may be easy. Perhaps you have faced what they are going through and can immediately call upon the thoughts and feelings you experienced during that time.
On the other hand, you may not relate to the situation at all. In this case, it will be necessary to put your imagination to work.
Once you let your imagination do a little work for you, you may find yourself relating to the person in question. Even if you’ve never been in their situation, actively listening to them, tapping into their feelings, and acknowledging their experience, will go a long way in developing your understanding of them.
Circumstances may or may not be ideal for you to offer advice, but if you do, realize that they may not be able to listen and heed your advice. Make sure you are responding rather than reacting when offering guidance.
Many times, simply feeling heard and acknowledged is enough to be helpful to someone in a difficult situation.
Active listening is at the heart of empathy. As you listen to someone you’d like to help, show your level of understanding by encouraging them to keep talking.
Allowing others to feel vulnerable in your presence can open the door to better trust and communication. We all have challenges that we face, and everyone struggles at certain times. Recognizing our shared humanity and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a comfort to others and a way to honor and accept ourselves, even as we are caring about their well-being.