By Dr Kate Bachtel
As many scholars suggest, empathy and high levels of sensitivity and awareness can be indicators of giftedness. Understanding another’s emotions and thought processes help us connect on a deep level. Yet, there are two sides to empathy superpowers. When an empath is coming from a place of well-being, this skill enables them to sit beside those who are suffering and support healing and positive transformation. Conversely, gifted individuals who have not learned strong self-care and grounding practices may report feelings of overwhelm. At times, the power of empathy can be also used to manipulate others. In the most tragic of circumstances, those who have been oppressed, neglected or abused can become wounded and entangled in a vicious cycle of relational aggression.
The Good News!
Empathy can be taught and measured. Below are 3 ways to cultivate empathy followed by 3 ways to ground oneself to use the 'E-power' for good. Combine these practices for support in engaging empathy for compassionate action.
Emotional intelligence has been decreasing steadily across countries, cultures and languages with marked drops in the skill of empathy. In practice, at SoulSpark Learning, we have yet to encounter someone with a perfect empathy score using the validated Six Seconds psychometric assessment tool. Here are a few playful ways to increase this critical EQ competency.
1. Emotion + Activity Game
This version of charades begins by creating two decks of cards out of paper notecards – on the first, list an emotion on each card (frustration, joy, peace, embarrassment, anger, etc.). The more nuanced the emotions, the better. On the second set of cards, list a variety of activities (planting a garden, painting, riding a bike, baking cookies, etc.). Take turns having participants select both an emotion and activity card and then silently act out the scene for the others to guess. How long does it take to guess both the activity and emotion?
In pairs, have one person move and the other pretend to be their mirror, precisely reflecting back the same movements. For an extra dose of joy, add music.
3. Role Play
Any type of role playing game grows empathy. Get creative; invent characters and scenes inclusive of diverse perspectives and situations that invoke a range of emotions. Role playing can be particularly helpful to prepare for challenging conversations or circumstances. Prevent Bullying has a range of role playing ideas to increase empathy and compassion.
From Empathy to Compassion
The difference between empathy and compassion is distance and action; compassion sits close and collaborates to create change.
Feel weighed down or immobilized by the pain of another? Some pretend they are in a bubble; others imagine themselves surrounded by roses or bathed in a light of their favorite color. Visualizing oneself in peaceful surroundings can help the empath stay put and support rather than flee.
2. Feel Your Soles
Some scholars and empaths proclaim walking barefoot on the earth for a few minutes each day supports the nervous system. When feelings of anxiety arise, focusing attention to the soles of one’s feet can prevent avoidance behaviors. Simultaneously repeating a mantra can help too, “I am grounded, I am courageous, I am calm.” The Daily Meditation has a number of mantras suitable for children.
3. Connect Heart, Body and Mind
A favorite mini-meditation is to imagine a star of golden light radiating out from one’s heart. Take a deep breath in and visualize the light moving from the heart up to the center of one’s mind. Then breathe out and move the light down to your gut or solar plexus, your body’s center. Continue breathing in and out moving the star up and down through your heart, mind and body until you feel clear, connected and centered.
Compassion is the gold standard, a measure of both individual and collective success.
About SoulSpark Learning
SoulSpark optimizes the development and well-being of youth and the educators who care for them. Read Kate's bio in our Friends of Gifted Alliance here.
Thank you Kate for sharing your expertise, experience, and championing gifted learners, their families, and educators!