Three different types of empathy and why empathy is more important than ever in a society where we are increasingly isolated from each other
In clinical settings where many of the person to person encounters a caregiver has in a day are with a patient facing some type of health issue, empathy is a professional necessity. But beyond the clinical setting, an understanding of empathy is vital to the formation of a real emotional connection with another human being. In an age where much of our interaction happens through screens and with gifs, memes, and emoticons, the art of empathetically connecting with another person is something that we need to work harder at and be more conscious of for our individual relationships and societal relationships to thrive.
A Definition of Empathy
Our English word “empathy” is derived from a combination of two Greek words εν (en: in) and πάθος (pathos: suffering; experience). You might also recognize pathos as a mode of persuasion that is based on appealing to the emotions of an audience (Wikipedia). So broken down into its basic etymological parts, to have empathy is to be in the suffering, experience, and emotions of another person. To an extent, you are able to mirror those emotions and feel something of what the other person feels. This emotional reflection could fall anywhere on the spectrum of human feeling (i.e. from joy to grief). It’s also worth noting that this is different than sympathy which is pity or feeling sorry for someone versus attempting to mirror/feel the emotions of the other person.
Psychology Today defines empathy like this:
Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. You try to imagine yourself in their place in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing. Empathy facilitates prosocial (helping) behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that we behave in a more compassionate manner.
This is a helpful working definition of empathy but I would suggest that there are three basic levels of empathy that are differentiated based on experience, training, and exposure.
All functioning humans have an ability to empathize. A person who lacks this ability is known as a sociopath and can have significant difficulties functioning in the world due to a lack…