The importance of empathy in the therapeutic world is undisputed, it is fundamental to good practice by counsellors and psychotherapists in their work. It is also core to all other relationships. There is an assumption by most, seeing ourselves as compassionate human beings, that we show empathy towards others but, sometimes, we have blindspots which go some way to explain difficulties in relationships with others. This can be seen in clients who present with work-related issues with colleagues where, through exploring, we discover that because of factors such as target pressures and low self-confidence they are less empathic towards others. It can be hard to accept but, when colleagues’ feedback shows a consistent pattern of feeling unheard and unvalued, it is essential to do this so that steps can be taken to introduce change and improve working relationships.
It can also be difficult to acknowledge lack of empathy in others who you love and value deeply but who show uncaring behaviour towards you. Many clients in abusive relationships who I work with are quick to blame themselves for issues in their relationship with their partner. It is more difficult for these clients to see that their partner is not being empathic towards them as this leads to shattering their belief of being valued and loved. It is hard to let go of the illusion of mutual love, value and acceptance but, in more accurately assessing the situation, this can lead to making better self-protecting decisions whether that involves staying in, or leaving, the relationship.
We all need to put empathy in the spotlight to assess more accurately whether we are meeting our needs both for ourselves and for others.