Life on the sensitivity spectrum is an experience that ranges from extremely challenging to annoying to transformational. It all depends on the depth of our sensitivity and our ability to grow and master our challenges.
It’s time to admit that sensitivity can be negative or positive. It’s all in the way we look at it. We can move from traumatized to thriving, especially with emotional sensitivity – also known more positively as empathy. As we learn to navigate empathy’s journey, some of us become hermits, but most simply learn to shield and empower ourselves as needed. Others channel their empathy, and train as healers or artists or teachers.
If we want to move from hermit to healer, our most powerful tool is a grounded practice to build healthy empathy habits. In Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Roman Krznaric proposes six habits to build healthy empathy. By practicing these habits daily, we can develop empathy as a tool to heal the world.
“The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid.
- Cultivate curiosity about strangers.
- Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities.
- “Try on” another person’s life.
- Master the art of radical listening.
- Pay attention to emotional aspects of social change.
- Develop an ambitious imagination. “
Krznaric reminds us that empathy is a good thing, something many people need to develop. Empathy is part of our essential evolution as humans. Mastering and developing our emotional sensitivity is not just a survival skill. It’s about developing a valuable gift. From that perspective, those of us who are already sensitive have an advantage.
“Over the last decade, neuroscientists have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which, if damaged, can curtail our ability to understand what other people are feeling. Evolutionary biologists like Frans de Waal have shown that we are social animals who have naturally evolved to care for each other, just like our primate cousins. And psychologists have revealed that we are primed for empathy by strong attachment relationships in the first two years of life.
“But empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history—and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years—reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us.”
As always, remember to start where you are. We heal, create new habits, and grow into new ways of being step by step. Gradually, empathy will feel less like a burden, becoming a tool to express yourself fully and meaningfully in your relationships and your chosen work.
by Carol Burbank
Read more about what it is to be an empath or Highly Sensitive Person and find out how a Shield can help