Putting on other people’s shoes

We all have particular social roles we fill in our everyday lives. We may occupy several roles at different times throughout the day. For example, you may be a waitress, a teacher, a husband, a brother, or a mother. Each of these roles is seen as having specific associated behaviours. In our initial encounters with other people, we often view them as their role, rather than as an individual acting in that particular role. This is what Daniel Goleman refers to as the It-identity. Goleman suggests that any time we are expected to engage with someone in terms of their social role alone, we treat them as a one-dimensional It, disregarding their human identity.

Although this is socially acceptable, even necessary, for many of our encounters with other people with whom we have superficial relationships, it is detrimental to our close relationships. We feel rejected by those we care about when we are treated more as a thing than as a person. It is important that we are able to attune to the realities of our loved ones, showing them empathy.

Goleman argues that empathy is the key to healthy communication within relationships. He describes being the target of true empathy as ‘feeling felt’. In such situations, we sense that the other person understands how we feel. This is a crucial element of healthy relationships.

Through sessions, we can work together to help build your empathy skills. We can discover tools and strategies to assist you in effectively looking at a situation from another’s perspective, strengthening your ability to see things from another’s point of view. We can work individually, or as a family or group, to share perspectives and uncover the benefits of empathic relationships.

Credit: Goleman, D. (2007). Beyond IQ, Beyond Emotional Intelligence- Social Intelligence: The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships. New York, NY- Random House Publishing.