What is Empathy? Is it Possible to be More Empathetic?

What is Empathy Is it Possible to be More Empathetic

Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions that the other person is experiencing by getting into their shoes. It is essentially visualising yourself to be them and then imagining the entire emotional response the person is having. Empathetic people can resonate with someone else’s emotional issues and then respond to them in a manner that the other individual might feel validated with.

Isn’t sympathy also the same? What is the difference between sympathy and empathy? We are understanding while being sympathetic as well aren’t we?

While sympathy and empathy are interchangeably used, they are not the same. You are sympathetic to the person but you are empathetic with the person. Sympathy brings around a sense of pity for the person wherein you feel sorry for the state they are in or for whatever they are going through.

But empathy brings understanding and resonance with the emotion that the person might be going through without any pity. With sympathy, you are concerned about the other person but with empathy, you share their emotion.

Sympathetic statements can sound like-Empathetic statements can sound like-
“I feel bad for what you’re going through.”“I feel what you’re going through.”
“I am sorry this is happening to you.”“I am here with you in this.”

Three different types or forms of empathy are

Affective Empathy-

Often referred to as emotional empathy, it is an ability to experience the other person’s emotional response, and be sensitive towards the other person’s mental state while going through the situation that they are in.

For example, when a friend of yours is grieving the loss of a relative they were close to, and you are supporting them in their grieving process by understanding their emotions and feeling the same because you resonate with what they are feeling and why they are feeling that way, you are being affectively empathetic.

Somatic Empathy-

Somatic here refers to our somatic nervous system which is responsible for our movements through sensory and motor nerve signals. This is particularly interesting because while being somatically empathetic to someone, we ourselves undergo certain physical responses.

For example, when a friend of yours has undergone a difficult surgery and is in a lot of pain, you might as well start having an upset stomach with no explanations for it.

Cognitive Empathy-

Similar to Affective Empathy, cognitive empathy also revolves around being understanding and considerate of other persons’ emotions but the difference is that when you’re cognitively empathetic, you are not actually experiencing the emotions, you are trying to think from their perspective to understand what they might be going through.

For example, your friend is upset about not being able to score a 100 on 100 in an exam but managed to score 98/100. You might be wondering what makes your friend upset about the remaining 2 marks and why is it so important for them to get those 2 marks. That makes you cognitively empathetic and understanding for your friend.

Can we really improve our sense of feeling empathetic? That’s a dicey question, to say the least. There are no concrete studies or researched evidence to say that we can develop empathy or improve our sense of it through certain activities or exercises.

Empathy is something that people start showing signs of at a very young age and are able to build on that as they grow older. But, there are no studies that show otherwise as well. We can’t claim that we can develop empathy but we can give it a try to see if it works for us.-

-Try listening to people without interrupting their flow of expression.

Practice active involvement in conversations like nodding in agreement or disagreement.

-Visualize yourself in their position and see if that makes any difference to your understanding.

-You don’t have to agree to understand them, try looking at where they’re coming from.

In the words of Brené Brown, “Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of – You’re not alone.”

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