Early in my teaching career, I took a strengths assessment, and I was not surprised at what was at the top of my list: achiever, discipline, learner and focus. I can see the many times in my life where all of these qualities are alive and thriving. For this specific assessment, all qualities that were assessed were listed from top to bottom, and at the bottom of the list was empathy. Seeing this ranking of words stopped me in my tracks.

I was annoyed and confused. I am a parent, a wife, a teacher, a coach, so empathy cannot be at the BOTTOM of this list. I know empathy means being aware of, and/or being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another. Yet, this is a hard topic for me. I want to be empathetic, but it just seems like this quality will never be part of my personality.

Trying to Be More Empathetic

Ever since this assessment, I have challenged myself to become a more empathetic person. Recently, however, I realized I have a love-hate relationship with this word.

There are times where I want to give someone a hug or show I care in some form, but it rarely comes across that way. When I practice being more empathetic, I usually play out the conversation in my head to find the right words…this obviously is not working. I recall three different situations where I was really trying to help and ended up causing more stress and made the person feel worse rather than better.

Why I Have Trouble with Showing Empathy

Reflecting upon those situations, I came to the conclusion that it’s a learned behavior. I feel sorry FOR the person rather than empathizing WITH the person. I try to be too positive and put a silver lining on everything, or I try to relate with a story that really has no connection to the situation.

Both of these are not necessarily wrong—they just don’t help. I’m not connecting. What I’m actually doing is minimizing the discomfort for myself as I really don’t know how to show empathy.

There are days when I want to say being empathetic is just not part of my wheelhouse and I need to quit trying to care and be sensitive to those around me. But is that really the right thing to do?

What I Can Do in the Future

Yet, I can do something about it. I can love those people and acknowledge their pain. I don’t have to always be positive about the situation or connect with a story. I just need to learn to listen and let people share their feelings.

While I am still annoyed that empathy is at the bottom of the qualities I possess and annoyed I am not naturally empathetic, I do realize I can still show love by doing something. And ultimately, that is the route I need to go—be silent and show empathy through love by doing rather than by conversing and storytelling.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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