Sometimes people mistake empathy for sympathy. The difference is that through empathy we can understand and feel the emotional truth of someone else, and share that experience with them.

If you weren't shown empathy in childhood it would be difficult to practice empathy as an adult. Continued lack of empathy in life stalls the reparative process that leads to true connection and intimacy. Instead it can lead to shame, isolation, emotional inactivity, or disruption. Empathy is actually what heals these difficult emotional states and is really a form of love.

So how do you develop empathy if you’ve never been shown it or felt it? One way is to begin to have empathy for your own emotional experiences. Instead of judging yourself observe your inner dialogue and try changing it to be gentler and less critical. You can also begin to practice reflective listening, which means to listen actively to another by being present in the conversation and reflecting back what you heard to confirm that you understood them correctly.

See related links on this important component of satisfying relationships.