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It’s important to have realistic expectations of others rather than just seeing the best in them, as many loving, empathic people tend to do. Idealizing someone or ignoring their limitations is a setup for disappointment.

We are all on equal ground. No one is better or less than you. When anyone tells you a fact about themselves such as, “I’m not the most giving person,” you must believe them.

My patient Jean, a smart, sensitive advertising executive, met a man who swept her away. “He’s so brilliant, affectionate, and fun,” she said. He also told her (which she didn’t believe) that he was extremely independent and wasn’t looking for a committed relationship. This man never deviated from his clear message— but it wasn’t what Jean wanted to hear. She thought, If I’m patient, our love will change his mind. Alas, it did not. Inevitably, Jean was painfully let down and felt bitter and resentful for a long time.

Accepting What Is

Making someone into who you want them to be can lead to heartbreak and disappointment. It’s like going into a hardware store filled with shelves of cold functional equipment and expecting to get a luscious warm croissant and fresh coffee. It’s not going to happen. Still, Jean was hurt and angry; she blamed him for her misery.

Months passed before she was able to accept and even empathize with herself for misreading the situation. She admitted how honest he’d been. It was a painful but useful lesson of accepting what is.

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Don’t let unrealistic expectations set you up for a similar scenario. I understand how much we may want love or success, how we may ignore the red flags that are evident from the start of a relationship or a passion project. So stay clear and strong. Train yourself to see people and situations accurately.

Take a Reality Check

For any new or ongoing relationship, ask yourself:

  • Am I seeing the whole person, their positive and negative traits?

  • Am I prone to fantasizing and magical thinking?

  • Do I believe what people tell me about themselves, or do I make excuses for them?

  • Are my expectations realistic?

  • Do I acknowledge any warning signs?

Compassionately evaluate your answers to determine where you stand with seeing others clearly. If you answered no to one or more questions, keep watching for how you can better align your expectations with reality.

Don’t keep giving your love and loyalty to people who can’t return it. Also be careful of expecting more from others than they can give. One definition of insanity is when you keep returning to the same situation but expect different results.

Sometimes having empathy means accepting that someone is doing their best (though it might not be great) and subsequently lowering your expectations. This helps you have realistic relationships with more empathy and acceptance for what others can give, even if it is not what you were hoping for.

When You Don’t Like Someone...

It’s harder to have empathy for people you don’t like or get along with or with whom you disagree. Empathy simply means that you can see where they are coming from, no matter how your opinions differ or how off-putting their personality is. I am not referring to people who are abusive here—just ordinary people who can be irritating or critical or exhibit other challenging behaviors.

Remember that we all can be difficult at times. That’s the nature of being human. Realizing this can help you go easier on yourself and others.

When you become too adamant about disliking someone, it can become a resentment that mainly hurts you. You end up wasting a lot of energy on disliking people that can be better channeled into happier pursuits.

The Namaste Experience

Liking someone is often a matter of personal preference. In India, when some people greet each other, they may make a small bow and say, “Namaste,” which conveys, I respect the spirit within you. This doesn’t necessarily mean, I like you. 

The benefits of empathy can sometimes be more about bringing you peace than changing another person. Even if you don’t care for someone’s personality or approach to life, you can respect their spirit.

Inwardly practice saying Namaste with people who annoy you or whom you don’t like. This brings more positivity to an interaction rather than fueling what’s negative. Instead of emphasizing whether you like or dislike someone, say inwardly about the person, I respect your spirit and the difficulties you’ve experienced. I wish you well.

Copyright 2024. All Rights Reserved.
Adapted with permission.

Article Source:

BOOK: The Genius of Empathy

The Genius of Empathy: Practical Skills to Heal Your Sensitive Self, Your Relationships, and the World
by Judith Orloff.

book cover: The Genius of Empathy by Judith Orloff, MD.The Genius of Empathy offers practical, action-driven guidance for connecting our minds and hearts to embody our most authentic, fierce, and compassionate selves. “Cultivating empathy is a kind of peaceful warrior training,” says Dr. Orloff. “You will learn to be both strong and loving, neither a pushover nor rigid. Wherever you are in your life, this book can meet you there and lift you higher.”

Each chapter is filled with Dr. Orloff’s most valuable insights and tools for living with greater connection, safety, and empowerment as your empathic abilities blossom.

For more info and/or to order this book, click here Also available as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of Judith Orloff, MDJudith Orloff, MD, is a member of the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty and a New York Times bestselling author. She’s a leading voice in the fields of medicine, psychiatry, empathy, and intuitive development.

Her work has been featured on CNN, NPR, Talks at Google, TEDx, and the American Psychiatric Association. She has also appeared in USA Today; O, The Oprah Magazine; Scientific American; and The New England Journal of Medicine.

She specializes in treating highly sensitive people in her private practice. Learn more at

More books by this Author.