Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It allows you to find common ground and better understand where others are coming from.
While most people understand what empathy is, they mistakenly view it as a single attribute. But, in reality, there are three different types of empathy that when used together will help you to connect with, relate to, and help others.
Cognitive empathy allows you to put yourself in another person’s shoes and better understand their perspective. Cognitive empathy enables you to see things as others see things, not from your point of view but theirs.
To be able to express your empathy in a more cognitive way you must understand the difference between feelings and emotions. Feelings, by and large, can’t be helped. They rise from within as an automatic response to some sort of stimuli. It could be somebody cutting you off in traffic or from a loved one falling ill. Emotions are your response to those feeling. When you understand that there is a difference between the two you become better at predicting which feelings elicit a particular emotional response. When you begin to understand your emotional responses and the feelings they are associated with, you become better at being able to control your emotions.
Since cognitive empathy is an outgrowth of self-awareness, it only makes sense that the better you understand your feelings and the emotions associated with them, the better you’re able to understand the same from another person.
Emotional empathy is what typically comes to mind when you think of the word empathy. It’s our ability to feel the pain of another person. This is a significant component of compassion and is a dominant driving force for altruism.
As a sidebar, it’s important to note that emotional empathy can cause a lot of emotional distress. Especially if you’re so in tune with another’s emotions that you take those emotions as your own. Again, this is another reason why you must train yourself to understand the differences between feelings and emotions. If you’re the type of person that gets emotional because you feel another’s pain and become emotionally distressed because of it, you must learn to take a step back mentally and readjust your own emotions. If not, then you run the real risk of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue leads to a withdrawal into oneself and the avoidance of others.
While emotional empathy is a good thing, too much can be detrimental to your health. This is no easy task, I understand. But, by learning to focus inwardly, you become better at helping others outwardly.
Empathic empathy allows you to understand what others need from you. While closely related to emotional empathy, empathic concern helps you to understand if somebody needs a hug or just an ear to listen.
To be more empathic requires you to manage your emotional distress without deadening your connection to another’s pain. It’s a precarious thing for sure but one that must be managed if you genuinely want to connect with, understand, and help others.
Connecting With, Understanding, and Helping Others
By understanding the three types (attributes) of empathy outlined above and how they overlap one another, you put yourself in a better position to connect with people on a deeper level. This is extremely important for leaders, spouses, parents, doctors, and everybody else for that matter.
Be being able to connect with others in a cognitive, emotional, and empathic way you become a more caring, understanding, and helpful person. If you want to learn how to wield massive amounts of influence and persuasion then learn how to be more self-aware so that you become better able to understand and connect with others on an emotional level. Learn that and you make the world a better place.