“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” – Maya Angelou

The term empathy was first introduced to the English language by American psychologist E.B. Titchener. He coined the term after translating the German counterpart “Einfühlung”. However, he was referring to the phenomena of motor mimicry. This is where someone is directing mimicking another’s actions.

What Is Empathy?

The term we know and use today is very different. Empathy can be tricky to define since it covers a broad area. While it is hard to define, many can agree on one common opinion; it is an automatic mental response to someone else’s actions, thought process, or emotions.

Simply put, empathy is the ability to fully comprehend or experience other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Ever heard the phrase “walk a mile in someone’s shoes”? This is referring to empathy.

What Is the Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy?

These terms are different in reality, however, they are often used interchangeably in speech.

Although they seem very similar, there is a very clear distinction between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is when you share the feelings of another person which can relate to feelings and emotions.

“A distinction is maintained between self and other. Sympathy involves the experience of being moved by, or responding in tune with, another person.” – Hodges and Myers

Empathy is when you fully understand the feelings of another but do not always share or feel them. However, sometimes empathy can lead to shared feelings and emotions.

“Empathy is often defined as understanding another person’s experience by imagining oneself in that other person’s situation: One understands the other person’s experience as if it were being experienced by the self, but without the self actually experiencing it.” – Hodges and Myers

What Is the Difference Between Empathy and Empaths?

Empathy is the ability to read and appreciate another person. It can be a tough situation they are going through or simply understanding their points of view in a conversation. At times you can feel their emotions, but this isn’t always the case.

Empaths are susceptibly emotional people. They experience high levels of understanding when it comes to reading another person’s emotional state of being. As a consequence, this usually translates into directly sharing the emotions of someone else.

Their intense empathy creates a shared emotional understanding. Where an empath strongly feels the emotions of people around them, this can be a one on one experience or in a large crowd. Many people who are empaths are unaware. They simply accept that they are sensitive to the energy around them. Or that they feel more emotions than the average person.

Empaths can tune into another living being’s experience intuitively, whether they know they are doing so or not. Some empaths can even experience the energy of all living things like plants and animals.

It sounds cool being an empath. However, people who do not understand it are left feeling drained, or over-energized. All without even realizing what happened. However, if you learn to accept your over-emotional empathic energy, you can manage or even harness it.

What Are the Types of Empathy?

  1. Cognitive Empathy
  2. Emotional Empathy
  3. Compassionate Empathy

There are three different types of empathy. Some people are better at understanding one type. However, you can develop all three. If you can you are on your way to becoming an emotionally intelligent human being.

A person high in perspective-taking may be good at understanding others’ points of view. Yet they might be prone to emotional cues. Or, an emotionally developed person could be good at experiencing emotional states.

Usually, we can all appreciate each type on some level. The key is to keep an open mind when communicating. Then you can deeply relate to another person.

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand someone’s thought process. It makes us better communicators. This is because it helps us recognize the best way to communicate. In addition, we can relate to someone in their own words, so to speak.

This refers to the ability to comprehend what a person might be thinking on a level others cannot. You can develop this level of empathy by simply asking the question “What is the other person going through? How are they thinking in this situation”?

This type can be a huge advantage. Especially when you find yourself needing to “get inside another person’s head”. This trait is perfect for leadership roles, undergoing negotiations, or trying to manage a large group. However, those who react purely with this type can seem cold or unattached since it does not invoke feelings or emotions.

Emotional Empathy

This is affective empathy. It is the ability to share the feelings of someone else. This type helps you build emotional relationships with others. This refers to the ability to recognize the feelings of another person through an emotional connection. It answers the question: “How does the other person feel?”

Have you ever been watching a sad movie and found yourself crying? This is the most basic example of emotional empathy. Most of us have this emotional capacity on some level. However, it can be challenging to speak to a person you might not like very much and still be able to feel emotional empathy for them.

Emotional empathy is wonderful but like anything, it can have its downside. One downside of this type occurs when people lack the ability to manage their own emotions as well as the overwhelming amount of emotions they feel when communicating with other people. It can lead to a feeling of burn out and exhaustion.

Compassionate Empathy

This is empathic concern. This usually is the most intense version of empathy. Actually, it goes far beyond simply feeling or understanding the emotions of others. This is usually what drives people to volunteer, take action or help all living beings in any way possible.

Have you have ever experienced the real agony of seeing an animal on the street, or a child being abused and felt this strong urge to do something? This is compassionate empathy. The main question asked is: “What can I do to help?

This particular kind uses your emotional intelligence to help a situation. It invokes not only an emotional response but also intellectual problem-solving.

This type is so vital, especially in today’s society. This is because it involves action. Typically invoking the first two types of empathy as well. If you can truly understand and share the feelings of another being, you can help them on a deeper level.

Why Do We Experience Empathy?

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of why we have the capability of empathy in the first place. We have something called “mirror neurons”. These fire when animals or humans observe and experience emotion in others. This was a huge breakthrough in the field of neuroscience. In fact, it gave us a great understanding of why we feel empathy.

Empathy is an adaptation that we essentially needed to evolve. Evolution teaches us that specialized neurobiological mechanisms in the prefrontal cortex have evolved in humans. They not only perceive but also predict and respond accordingly. This is why different types exist. But also why we need to be able to comprehend and utilize all three of them.

Why Do We Need It?

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defence energy goes down and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”- Stephen Covey

Try this experiment the next time you are stuck in traffic or waiting in line for something. Take a serious look at the people around you and imagine who they might be, what kind of lives do they live? What they might be thinking at this very moment? Are they frustrated? Happy? Bored? Try to really consider the state of this person. This will help put yourself in their shoes and will help to develop empathy.

Empathy is very important when it comes to building genuine relationships with others. Start with your family or significant other. Because if you can’t connect with the most important people in your life, then who can you connect with?

Empathy from a global perspective is so crucial. In society, we are often taught to look out for number one, pursue our own goals, whatever the cost might be. And yes, self-care and goals are important. However, we need to stop looking at ourselves as separate from others. We should start looking at ourselves as one. Because after all, we are all the same at the end of the day. Each person experiences the same struggles, joys, pain, and love that we do.

Empathy is what pushes people to help when there are major disasters. Ordinary people are willing to help strangers. Not only because they feel a profound level of compassion towards them. But also because they know if the roles were reversed, others would help them. Without it, the world would be a much darker place to live.

Empathy is so significant for human connection.  Likewise, human connections are what contribute to a happy, healthy life. It really does make the world go ‘round.

How to Be More Empathetic in Relationships

The key factors to empathic interactions are listening and understanding.

Most of us have this terrible habit of talking at people instead of actually talking to them. We say our piece and for us, the conversation is over. Then, while the other person is speaking, we are already thinking about what we want to say next instead of listening to what is coming out of their mouths.

Actively listening means that you are trying not to judge the other person. You are actually listening without interrupting or formulating a response.

Healthy relationships require patience, nurturing and thoughtfulness. A relationship that lacks empathy typically won’t last. This is because both sides aren’t receiving what they truly need. When people only think of their own interests, they have nothing else to offer another person.

By striving to understand someone’s needs you can build a strong foundation for a lasting relationship. This is so important when building a romantic relationship with a partner.

The workplace may be one of the most difficult places for empathetic relationships to develop. Mainly as many people tend to separate their personal feelings from the workplace. However, a successful work environment usually requires teamwork. So, it’s important to utilize empathy in the workplace. Without it, it’s much easier to fall into disagreements. In the long run, this can make a workplace a very hostile place to be.

This can also be applied to managing others. Bosses who lack empathy are likely to have miserable employees. In addition, their work will suffer because of it. It has been proven that people work better from praise and acknowledgements then they do from fear and punishment.

By actively practising empathy in the workplace, we can inspire others to work harder. Only then can they can contribute their unique needs and talents.

Teaching empathy is so important in early childhood. Especially when responding to a child’s needs and emotions. Children continue to develop empathy when they see their parents or caregivers practising it. This is because children mimic not only actions but also feelings and emotions from the people around them.

This is a very common trait that sociopaths lack. They never learned to develop empathy or solid relationships at a young age. As a result, they lack the ability to develop it later in life.

Final Thoughts

Self-awareness and a non-judgmental attitude are needed before you can properly empathize with someone else. Look within yourself and find the strength to understand we are all connected. It doesn’t matter what is on the outside. At the core, every person is experiencing life in a similar way.

Empathy can not only strengthen your relationships but it will genuinely make you a better human being. One who leads a happy productive life.

References:

  1. www.inc.com
  2. www.britannica.com
  3. www.psychologytoday.com
Valerie Soleil, B.A., LL.B.

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