Writing and Empathy – Understanding Others By Creating Fictional Characters

So here’s a little more information about me.

I work full-time as a mental health support worker. I assist people with a diverse range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. Most of the clients I support also have intellectual disability. Before that I worked in the community with homeless people who also had drug and alcohol addiction.

With these issues, came challenges. With these challenges, came a confrontation of my core values and beliefs. With these confrontations, came frustration, a need to object, to disagree, to prove the other person wrong.

But why?

These are people who have suffered due to their issues, people who have every reason to believe the things they do because of their experiences. If the client is not hurting anyone or themselves, who am I to say their views are incorrect simply because they do not align with mine?

Unfortunately this was and still is easier said than done, but I realised back then that in order for me to be there for others, not just in my work, but for the people in my life, I had to continually practice empathy.

Empathy fuels connection; sympathy drives disconnection.”

Brené Brown

There are many methods that I utilised to strengthen my ability to empathise with others and from personal experience, creating fictional characters was and continues to be one of the best technique I have ever used.

How did writing fictional characters help strengthen my empathy?

When writing a story, a key component in good storytelling is creating characters with opposing ideologies to generate conflict. With one or possibly many of these characters, the chances that my own values and beliefs will clash with theirs is always a definite yes.

However, even if this is the case and the actions of these characters are considered morally wrong or goes against everything I stand for, I write them in a way that I can understand the reasons behind said actions. A story where I can at least empathise with the character.

Knowing that a backstory lies within the soul of these characters reminds me that everyone has backstory of their own. So when I am supporting clients at work and they behave in a way that I don’t agree with, I know I can approach them the same way I write a fictional character; discovering their backstories and understanding who they are.

In the end, I may still disagree with them. This also includes everyone in my life, and you know what? That’s okay. Just like the characters I write, at least I heard what they had to say. At least I now have an understanding. At least I can empathise with their story.

Thank you so much to those who read this post. I hope you enjoyed it. Please let me know in the comments below if this is the type of content you would like to see in the future. Happy writing all.

Photo Credit: Sven Lachmann from Pixabay

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