If your personal revelation begins with, “This may shock you…” it is probably a good idea to put the rest of the statement on hold.
You Are Trying To Be Empathetic
How many times have you told someone, “I’ve been there myself”? Perhaps you just said it while reading this question. It can make you appear more relatable, compassionate and genuine. Not only do you share personal experiences among friends and family, this is heralded as a method of obtaining more followers on social media and blogs. But are you sharing too much information (TMI)?
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
In response to chants like: “Bare your soul” and “Put yourself out there,” many open up about their brightest aspirations and darkest secrets. Within the original context, the comments seem appropriate. Out of context, those words and images are embarrassing or perhaps, scandalous. These opposing outcomes should calibrate the barometer of what to share. Do not publish something that has the potential to harm your reputation or jeopardize the safety of your family.
If your personal revelation could easily begin with, “This may shock you…” it is probably a good idea to put the rest of the statement on hold. Consider the consequences of what you say next. Call it personal filtering or censorship if you must. Expressions like “Bite my tongue” or “TMI” should help you pump the brakes. Reducing or eliminating the use of inhibition-diminishing substances is also helpful.
Listeners have a natural desire to be first to reveal new gossip. Often, this is where context and accuracy diminishes. Whether the second-hand story begins with, “You won’t believe what I heard” or “Can you keep a secret?” it is likely to take a turn for the worse. Even an authentic photo can be cropped or edited to alter original meaning. Remember, memes are forever.
Mental health experts learn how to deflect questions if patients try to draw them into their personal drama. A professional response might be, “This is not about me. Let’s focus on your feelings.” Speaking to a peer, this might not convey the desirable level of empathy. It may even sound smug.
Examples shed light on the potential problem:
- Love of family leads you to share photos of children on social media without regard for how easy it is for visitors to locate them from imbedded geolocation data.
- A man tells a coworker he had a dream about her, which is construed as: ‘You are the woman of my dreams.’
- A long-distance romance capitulates to sharing intimate photos.
- A longtime friend reveals spousal abuse. To be empathetic, you respond by mentioning how you were abused as a child.
- You or a friend posts photos of a wild party where you are sloppy drunk.
- In compliance with HIPAA, doctors conceal medical history. But you tell all about your medical conditions on social media.
Can any of this be harmful? Relationships end—sometimes badly. So a close admirer may become a mortal enemy holding compromising images. Employers parse social media during background checks. Pre-existing health conditions often hinder future insurance coverage.
Do you really want to be the topic of the next Internet scandal? Social media is one of the biggest contributing factors to depression in adolescents, leading to 13 percent of teenage deaths in the United States. So when you are in a mood for sharing, consider crying on the shoulder of qualified psychologists or someone with ecclesiastical privilege.
How To Be Empathetic
Neuroscientists have recently discovered that humans are wired to experience empathy through multiple systems of mirror neurons in our brains. When as a trusted confidant, your friend is opening up to you, remain focused on his or her problems and respect the confidence. Consider how the other person feels and offer reassurances. Often it is therapeutic to vent. Do more listening than talking. A sincere statement like “I’m sorry you are going through this” is better than making the conversation about your own experiences.
- Pay attention, physically and mentally, to what’s happening.
- Listen carefully, noting keywords and phrases that people use.
- Respond encouragingly to the central message.
- Prepare to change direction as the other person’s thoughts and feelings also change.
You do not have to overshare to be empathetic and should not do so just to gain followers on social media. Be genuine and remain focused on the objective. Limit what you, type, say and record. Don’t confuse fame with infamy.
- I Don't Feel Your Pain: Overcoming Roadblocks to Empathy. psychologytoday.com
- Social Media, Self-Esteem, and Teen Suicide. pcc.com
- 31 Empathetic Statements for When You Don’t Know What to Say. medium.com
- Empathy at Work. mindtools.com
Access more article features and references.