Empathy After a Crisis

In the past years a lot of people have been on an emotional roller-coaster. Whether it was the multiple shootings of blacks, LGBT, and cops, the political election, war, protest or just news of your fave celebrity dying or splitting with their partner, emotions have been elevated which means media (social and otherwise) has been intense. While many tend to avoid social media during these exhausting times, that may not be an option for the technology based generation. Social media is where this group of people gets their news and information or where they share their opinions and read the opinions of like-minded people. Sharing during difficult times can be cathartic, and finding safe spaces to discuss difficult conversations can be comforting. Even still, when using public platforms there are times that the conversation can become less comforting and more inciting.

There are times when convos via public platforms can become less comforting and more inciting Click To Tweet

When working on communication skills with couples some of the most important aspects are clarification and empathy. It would be amazing if interactions on social media could hold similar standards. If you go to your partner and say “It hurt me when you were late to dinner,” an inappropriate response would be, “But what about that time you were late to dinner with your best friend, and the time kids were late to my birthday party or the time you didn’t give me a kiss when you came home.” While all of those may be valid concerns, bringing them up after someone expresses their feelings or concerns takes away from the topic at hand. This type of response distracts from the person that was sharing and paints the responder as defensive. When someone thinks that their feelings are being dismissed they often shut down or engage in detrimental conversations. So, a better response would be, “So you are saying you are hurt because I was late. Well I was stuck in traffic and got a flat tire but I am sorry that my actions (or the actions of others) made you feel that way.”  This response clarifies the feeling, showing that you understand what the other person is saying, offers your side or point of view and offers sympathy for how your actions made the other person feel. Of course, this is not how all exchanges go and unfortunately, on social media, this seems to be a real challenge for individuals with opposing viewpoints.

The next time you find yourself engaged in an online discussion with someone with whom you seriously disagree, especially after a crisis, try offering a little empathy. Crises have a way of tapping into people’s raw, unfiltered emotions and what results is an outpour of passion. This seems to be intensified on social media because, like any other written expression, there is little room for interruption or correction. Social media allows a person to vent their true feelings seemingly without consequence. However, because this is still a social platform, other people will read and respond to the posts, sometimes with the same amount of, or even more, passion. This can lead to a strong, hot- tempered exchange that often takes a drastic turn from the original topic. Using empathy in online discussions can prevent this negative outcome. When you see someone on your timeline that is hurting or speaking from their pain, you don’t have to respond in the same way. If they are already angry or upset, it makes no sense for you to reply in the same way. Good communication never happens with angry people. Negativity does not need to be met with more negativity. Instead offer clarification and validation, respond to the actual topic and keep your own hostility and biases in check.

Clarification– reply with a summary of what you think their main points were in the original post.

Validation– acknowledge the difficult emotions they are expressing.

Respond to topic being discussed– reply only to the topic that they have addressed. Do not bring in other topics that have nothing to do with the original post.

Do not meet hostility with hostility– The best way to NOT be heard is to speak through anger. Angry people are so caught up in their emotions that it is difficult to sort through someone else’s thoughts and feelings.

The best way to NOT be heard is to speak through anger. Click To Tweet

Ultimately, when engaging in social media discussions, it’s important to remember that people deal with their emotions in very different ways but letting someone else’s emotions control your behavior shows a lack of emotional intelligence and maturity. Instead of attacking someone who may be attacking you, give them sympathy. Offer them your condolences for their pain as well as an alternative point of view, but don’t become defensive and or overcome by your own emotions.

Post Author: Eboni Harris

Eboni Harris is a relationship therapist and Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Room for Relations and host of Room for Relations: Sex and Relationship Podcast. Through her education she has learned the skills and techniques to help individuals and couple love better, stronger and longer. Through life she has learned that taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for you and the ones you love. Her goal is to help adults communicate with clarity and honesty, love with passion and intention and teach their offspring (little ones) the value of boundaries, compassion and trust.