The Importance of Empathy

Empathy, compassion and validation are a vital part of our company values.

Alongside our five other key values, we are committed to being compassionate in all that we do. The act of being compassionate goes hand-in-hand with empathy and validation, and allows us to offer the best support to the young people within our care, thus successfully assisting them through their journey to recovery.

But what exactly is empathy? And how does it relate to validation? Empathy can be understood using the metaphor of shoes – it is the act of placing yourselves in someone else’s shoes to understand how they feel. Naturally, depending on the condition of the shoes, the size, brand and style, you can’t always completely understand what it is like to wear the shoes of someone else. You can, however, use your own past experiences and knowledge to gain a good understanding of what other people’s shoes may feel like, which is where empathy comes in. 

An important part of empathy is letting go of the idea that you must solve someone’s problems, or distract them from what they are feeling. Whilst this may sometimes be a useful tool, there are other occasions where the opposite is far more successful. By providing a safe space and an empathetic ear to someone, you can allow individuals to feel validated and less isolated in their feelings. This is how empathy and validation can work in perfect harmony to ensure you provide the best support, whether it’s for a colleague, friend or someone in your care.

Here is a great example of how empathy can be a useful tool when trying to comfort someone.

*Please also pay particular attention to the validating statements Sadness uses.

And, here we have some examples of how to encounter two different situations using empathy and validating statements:

Example 1: Your child comes to you one day clearly very upset, they explain it is because they feel like they did badly in an exam.

What not to say: “Oh, don’t cry! It will be okay, I am sure you did really well.”

What to say: “I can imagine why you are feeling upset right now, regardless of how you have done though, I am still proud of you.”

Example 2: You are a support worker in a mental health residential home and a young person is mourning the loss of their hamster.

What not to say: “It’s only a hamster, we can get you another one.”

What to say: “You must be feeling very sad about your loss at the moment, I bet he was a really lovely pet.”

At Care in Mind, we are devoted to ensuring the young people within our homes feel safe, cared-for and validated. A key way we achieve this is through practicing empathy, and using this guide, it is something you can apply to appropriate scenarios throughout your personal and professional life.

Why Do Young People Self-Harm?

The stigma attached to self-harm means that society has a limited understanding of what it is and why people do it.

For many young people, it often serves a function, such as to regulate emotions or to communicate their distress. Andrew Sutton, our Clinical Nurse Specialist, shares the three key functions of self-harm for children and young people.

To Regulate

Self-harm is usually linked to an individual feeling overwhelming emotional pain, which they may find difficult to convey verbally. To cope with this pain, they may turn to harming themselves in order to alleviate their internal pain.

Our brains are still forming well into our twenties, which means understanding the world and processing emotions can be limited. Coupled with the difficulty of being a young person these days, this can make for a very turbulent time. There are many barriers for young people when it comes to communicating their internal distress, such as; shame, fear or low self-esteem.

Furthermore, everyone has an emotional baseline, meaning we all have a different distress tolerance. Some young people have a higher threshold to distress and may be less vulnerable to anxiety throughout adolescence. However, others may have a lower threshold, which coupled with trauma or further internal distress, may lead a young person to utilise self-harm as a coping method.

Most cases of self-harm are not carried out with intent to end life, with the purpose often to inflict physical pain on oneself in order to regulate emotions. When it is done with this purpose in mind, it is usually kept private and may not be visible or obvious to other people.

To Communicate

For some young people, self-harm may be used to communicate their distress to others. This may be viewed as attention-seeking; however, it is usually done to ensure that their needs are being met by their caregivers.

This type of self-harm can be impacted by attachment difficulties, for example, if a young person lacks trust in their caregiver’s ability to keep them safe. For those using self-harm in this way, they may have experienced neglect or have difficulty trusting others due to rejection.

How a caregiver responds to an incident of self-harm in this case can be pivotal to their perception of self-harm going forward. If a young person learns that self-harm can be a valuable tool in receiving attention, this may manifest as a care eliciting behaviour. Whilst ‘attention-seeking’ has very particular connotations attached to it, these incidents can be very dangerous. Care eliciting self-harm can become risky if the young person feels that they need to increase intensity to ensure their needs are being met.

If an adult is to respond through their anxiety and perhaps become overly protective, this may exacerbate the behaviour. Instead, helping a young person to develop trust and accept responsibility for their own actions is key in encouraging a healthy recovery.

To Join In

For a small group of individuals, self-harm may be partly influenced by the world around us. As we develop and explore our identity, young people can be easily influenced by those around them, and the act of harming oneself is becoming increasingly common.

Self-harm is done in a myriad of different ways for an infinite amount of reasons, with some not fitting neatly into any one of these boxes. It is something that must always be taken seriously and treated appropriately to ensure that the individual can learn new ways of functioning without harming themselves.

Care in Mind’s First Prom: 2019

Care in Mind's first prom; table decorations and balloons.
Young people across the globe look forward to prom as an important event in their lives.

The American-born tradition provides teenagers with the perfect excuse to get dressed up and dance the night away. However, for many of the young people in our care, prom is a milestone they may have missed out on.

With this in mind, and prompted by a young person’s suggestion, in 2019 we embarked on organising the very first Care in Mind prom. Our Young Persons’ Champions and Service User Involvement Coordinator supported the young people across our services in the organisation of the celebration.

Our young people were significantly involved in prom arrangements to ensure the event was exactly what they wanted. Each home shared around preparation tasks, such as creating invites and choosing music.

Taking place towards the end of the year, the event was ideal for celebrating individual achievements throughout 2019. On the night, each young person received a personalised award in recognition of their own unique triumphs for the year.

Additionally, the Executive Management Group handed out five special awards  to recognise outstanding contribution over the last 12 months:

  • Inspirational Young Person Award
  • Outstanding Achievement Award
  • Greatest Impact Award 2019
  • Initiative and Compassion Award 2019
  • Strength and Courage Award 2019

Sharron Amri, Managing Director at Care in Mind, said: “It is sometimes easy to forget that our young people have missed so much during their teenage years, but the prom was a moment for everyone to experience adolescence without the thought of mental health or traumatic experiences. I felt humbled to be part of something so special, watching young people just enjoying themselves in the moment was something I will never forget.”

All of the young people involved in the celebration made it the exceptional night it was. Their input in everything from table decorations to entertainment created the perfect prom night! The night was such a success that we are hoping it will become an annual event – bring on 2020!