Choosing empathy over anger

women looking angry pulling at her hair

Author: August Clarke

“Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure.” – Tim Kreider

Try to think of the last time that you got into a fight or experienced conflict with a loved one. How did you feel?

You probably felt hurt, upset, frustrated. But the emotion that we often have no idea how to handle is anger. When you are fighting with someone, it can be easy to feel indignant and misunderstood and to place all of the blame on the person across from you. This is really problematic because all it does is make the other person feel more upset, angry, and misunderstood, which then causes them to react in a way that in turn makes you feel even more upset, angry, and misunderstood.

Basically, it is the ultimate feedback loop from hell.

I like the quote that I featured above because I’ve realized how true it is. It’s easy to feel anger and to blame our problems on other people. And, for a short time, that indignation can feel good, because it takes the responsibility for our pain off of our own shoulders and places it on someone else’s. However, over time bitterness can destroy relationships and sap the joy out of everything.

That’s why choosing empathy over anger is important. Sustaining anger rarely does anything in the end except cause hurt.

So, how can you be more empathetic?

LISTEN

This seems kind of obvious, but one of the reasons that so many arguments get out of hand is because both parties are so concerned with getting their own points across that they don’t even pause to consider the other person’s point of view. A lot of the time, we hear what someone is saying to us, but we don’t truly process what it means. Before countering someone’s point, try to understand what they are communicating to you first, even if that means you have to verbally rephrase what they just said to you.

REFLECT

People often mistake sympathy for empathy, but they are not the same thing. Anyone can express sympathy or pity for another person’s struggles, but empathy requires making an attempt to actually feel another person’s pain or emotions. This is a lot harder to do.

It is very, very difficult to be an empathetic person if you are not in tune with your own pain. By reflecting more on how you feel, that can make it easier to relate to other people, as well as express yourself in a concise and non-confrontational way that others will respond to positively.

CONNECT

This is the part where you actually express the empathy that you feel for another person. This can be communicated in all sorts of ways, and it varies by situation.

I once read a quote by Mark Manson that really made me think, and he says that the only way to change someone else’s values is by presenting them with an alternative experience to their value. Basically, the only way to challenge the anger and indignation someone feels towards you is by responding to them with an emotion that is contrary to what they are feeling.

Aka. Empathy.

It sort of makes sense when you think about it. It’s easy to say things you know are going to hurt someone if they have also said things that hurt you. It is a lot harder to sustain anger at someone who is treating you with kindness and understanding. Odds are, if you listen to someone and attempt to understand their point of view, they will offer you the same courtesy.

Overall, it is important to ask yourself what you value more: salvaging your relationship, or maintaining your pride. At the end of the day, some things are more important than others.