Can Empathy be Learned?

As I said in my post about how a strong introvert can succeed in a relationship with an extrovert, I am a very strong introvert.

Sometimes this trait of my personality causes me to come across as uncaring, aloof and lacking empathy.

The truth is that I do care about the feelings of other people, and I do care a lot, but I have a hard time expressing my feelings so I come across as cold, uncaring and indifferent when in fact I am not and, deep inside, I am the exact opposite of that.

I have deep concern for people who suffer, even for animals for that matter, and I have a deep desire to help but I struggle to project those emotions outward.

My wife, on the other hand, because she comes from a culture that encourages reaching out to others and connecting with others, is much more capable of expressing fellow feeling and empathy.

So, when I became aware that feeling love and care deep inside while not being able to let people know what I feel and how much I feel and care doesn’t work in an intimate relationship, I decided to conquer this weakness by basically applying the same method that has helped me to conquer my inability to listen to others.

Few weeks ago I wrote a post about how I learned to listen more.

I used to suck a lot at listening to others but, when I became aware of how this weakness was eating away at my marriage, I trained myself to listen more by making a deliberate effort to practice paying attention when others speak in every situation.

For example, because I regularly attend meetings, lectures and conventions, I make it a practice to remember at least three points of each talk I listen to and then approach the speaker and give him feedback about what I liked in his presentation and try to be as specific as possible.

And when I go to a large Filipino social gathering, instead of shying away from kwentuan (a lot of people who chit-chat, usually about petty issues) and retreat myself into a corner, I try to sit close to the people who are engaging in kwentuan and try to pay attention to, at least, three points and make three comments before retreating myself in a corner.

By training myself to make a deliberate effort to listen and give feedback in every situation I am also making good progress under this aspect in my family life.

And it’s the same with empathy: by practice it can be learned, and, again, I am not talking about the empathy that I feel deep inside but rather the ability to come across as one who really cares.

So, what I started practicing, to come across as more empathetic in my marriage, is simply this: I make a deliberate effort to repeat out loud the gist of what my wife has just said whenever she is talking to me.

I am not perfect at this yet, it might take years to master this but I am glad that I decided to work on my old habits.

I really want my marriage to grow and thrive so I cannot afford to be stuck in old patterns.

I used to believe that a thriving marriage with a Filipina was all about learning about her language and culture and building rapport that way but, somewhere along the line, it dawned upon me that the key to an amazing marriage (and it doesn’t really matter if we are talking about an interracial one or a quote-unquote “normal” one) is a huge mindset shift and working on one’s psychology.

As human beings we share the same underlying psychology and empathy is one of those things that work cross-culturally.

Learning about my wife’s native culture and language without working on my mindset weaknesses was producing absolutely nothing, therefore I decided to spend much more time reading material on the psychology of healthy relationships and trying to apply those bits of information and I cut back a bit on my deep study of the Philippines and its culture which is, without a doubt, very useful but is definitely not the master key to a successful relationship.

5 thoughts on “Can Empathy be Learned?

  1. You come across as someone who is very caring in your posts. Maybe it is because my first marriage was so bad, but I struggle with the typical expressions of caring – like ‘I love yous and red roses. When my husband makes coffee, or that sort of thing, I know he is showing his love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It took me years to really master how to come across as caring. At the beginning of my relationship I did love my wife but I struggled to communicate the love and the care that I was feeling deep inside….I am very introverted so I often come across to others as one who is aloof

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      1. I can relate but I am sure Dan knows how much I feel for him and no doubt your wife has always known as well. It is always good to try to communicate such things to your partner but I think the big thing is to be sincere. In whatever you say or do.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Absolutely, shy people like me have a hard time coming across as caring but coming from a place of sincerity trumps these communication issues

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