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How to Cultivate Empathy

Dr. Edward Hallowel

Last Thursday, Robin CEO Sonny Thadani talked with ADHD expert, best-selling author and psychologist Dr. Ned Hallowell on IG Live about Connection and Empathy. You DMed us your questions and we asked! Here are some of the highlights from the engaging conversation.

Q: What is your definition of empathy?

A: Empathy is the ability to sense, feel and understand what another person’s experience is. It is putting aside your own feelings and desires and judgements and trying to put yourself in another’s shoes.

Empathy doesn’t come to us all naturally. It’s a learned skill that we need to practice well into adulthood.

Empathy is a learned skill that we need to practice well into adulthood.

Q: How do you teach empathy to your teens?

A: Model it yourself. Children and adolescents learn by observing how you act. It can be a challenge for every single one of us but we need to train ourselves to hold back on making judgements. Instead we need to approach others using curiosity. It’s a much more productive way to approach any situation. Ask questions and actively listen.

Q: How is empathy related to connection?

A: Empathy is critical for connection. Without it, self-interest rules. To truly find a deep connection to others we need to understand where they’re coming from and what they’re feeling. We need to share and be vulnerable of course, but we also need to hear, see and acknowledge others.

Empathy is critical for connection. Without it, self-interest rules.

Q: Can you have too much empathy?

A: Yes! It can actually be a curse. You can get overwhelmed and traumatized by feeling the pain in this world. And there is a lot of pain in this world. You need to develop methods of tuning out the pain and developing healthy coping skills.

First, it is key to establish a way to take care of yourself and recharge. One way is through taking a mental break. Read a novel or do a crossword puzzle. Do something that allows you to be in the moment and gives your brain a rest from stress or worry. Engaging in physical activity such as yoga or other exercise can also allow you to reconnect with yourself in a healthy way.

Q: As a teacher, how do I help students manage their empathy? And how do I effectively model empathy for my students?

A: You can help students manage empathy by regularly introducing opportunities to dial empathy up or down. If a student is being unkind to another, stop and use it as a learning opportunity for the class. Ask the students to reflect and really think through an unkind action and how it would affect another person. What could they have done differently? Addressing it head on and offering time to practice empathy and think through consequences will allow the students to build those skills.

You can also model empathy by representing vulnerability as a strength. Let your students know it’s something to be admired.

Model empathy by representing vulnerability as a strength.

Q: The way I experience empathy can be so up and down. It’s either severe or absent. I’m very sensitive or numb. Why?

A: It can be difficult to manage and balance your thoughts and emotions, especially if you are in a position of supporting or teaching others that are vulnerable and experiencing pain and hardship. Sometimes when we become overwhelmed with empathy and deep feelings for others we take on and physically feel their pain. Or our bodies can simply tune the pain out so we are left numb and feeling nothing.

We need to remember that being human is who we are and perfect is not going to happen to anybody. We need to constantly practice a healthy balance of empathy by introducing the healthy coping skills we discussed earlier. The reward is worth it. Empathy is critical for a richly connected life which is scientifically proven to lead to better health, personal fulfillment and happiness.

Being Human is who we are and perfect is not going to happen to anybody.

Tune in next Thursday, May 27th at 8 pm ET for our next IG Live with Robin Coach Nyeesha Williams!




About the Coach

Dr. Hallowell

Dr. Edward Hallowell.

Ned is a board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and world authority on ADHD. He is the Founder of The Hallowell ADHD Centers in several US cities. Dr. Hallowell is a New York Times bestselling author and has written 20 books on multiple psychological topics including the groundbreaking Driven to Distraction. In addition to being an Advisor, Ned coaches Robin's community of parents and teachers form stronger connections with their middle and high schoolers.

Meet Ned