Empathy is the recognition and understanding of the states of mind, beliefs, desires, and particularly, emotions of others. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or experiencing the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself; a sort of emotional resonance.
What is Empathy?
The origin of the word empathy dates back to the 1880s, when German psychologist Theodore Lipps coined the term “einfuhlung” (literally, “in-feeling”) to describe the emotional appreciation of another’s feelings. Empathy has further been described as the process of understanding a person’s subjective experience by vicariously sharing that experience while maintaining an observant stance. Empathy is a balanced curiosity leading to a deeper understanding of another human being; stated another way, empathy is the capacity to understand another person’s experience from within that person’s frame of reference.
Even more simply stated, empathy is the ability to “put oneself in another’s shoes.” In an essay entitled “Some Thoughts on Empathy,” Columbia University psychiatrist Alberta Szalita stated, “I view empathy as one of the important mechanisms through which we bridge the gap between experience and thought.” A few sentences earlier in her essay, she had emphasized that … “[empathy is] consideration of another person’s feelings and readiness to respond to his [or her] needs … without making his [or her] burden one’s own.”
While the ability to imagine oneself as another person is a sophisticated imaginative process that only fully develops later on in life, the roots of this ability are probably innate. Human capacity to recognize the emotions of others is related to our imitative capacities, and seems to be grounded in the innate capacity to associate the bodily movements and facial expressions we see with the proprioceptive feelings of those same movements or expressions.
Humans also make the same immediate connection between tone of voice and inner feeling. Hence, by looking at the facial expressions or bodily movements of others, or hearing their tone of voice, we are able to get an immediate sense of how they feel on the inside. We experience this as anything from understanding, to directly experiencing or feeling their emotion (say, sadness or anger), rather than just noting the behavioral symptoms of that emotion.
More fully developed empathy requires more than simply recognizing another’s emotional state. Since emotions are typically directed towards objects or states of affairs (either real or imaginary), the empathiser first requires some idea of what that object might be. Next, the empathiser must determine how the emotional feeling will significantly affect the way in which s/he perceives the object. In other words, the empathizer must determine the aspects of the object upon which to focus.
Hence s/he must not only recognize the object toward which the other is directed, but also then recognize the bodily feeling, and then add these components together. The empathiser has to somehow find a way into the loop where perception of the object generates feeling, and feeling affects the perception of the object. This process occurs before taking in account the character of the other person as well as their wider non-psychological context (such as being short or being a lawyer).
In general two methods of empathy are possible: either a) simulate the pretend beliefs, desires, character traits and context of the other and see what emotional feelings this leads to; or b) start by simulating the emotional feeling directly perceived and then look around for a suitable reason for this to fit to. Either way, full empathetic engagement is supposed to help to understand and anticipate the behavior of the other. Additionally, other subtle methods may be available, depending on the purpose of the empathic act.
Empathy Versus Sympathy (and Versus Pity)
Despite some divergent opinion on the matter, we may propose a subtle but important distinction between empathy and sympathy.
Whereas empathy is used by skilled clinicians to enhance communication and delivery of care, sympathy can be burdensome and emotionally exhausting and can lead to burnout. Sympathy implies feeling shared with the sufferer as if the pain belonged to both persons: We sympathize with other human beings when we share and suffer with them. It would stand to reason, therefore, that completely shared suffering can never exist between physician and patient; otherwise, the physician would share the patient’s plight and would therefore be unable to help.
Empathy is concerned with a much higher order of human relationship and understanding: engaged detachment. In empathy, we “borrow” another’s feelings to observe, feel, and understand them–but not to take them onto ourselves. By being a participant-observer, we come to understand how the other person feels. An empathetic observer enters into the equation and then is removed.
- Pity describes a relationship which separates physician and patient. Pity is often condescending and may entail feelings of contempt and rejection.
- Sympathy is when the physician experiences feelings as if he or she were the sufferer. Sympathy is thus shared suffering
- Empathy is the feeling relationship in which the physician understands the patient’s plight as if the physician were the patient. The physician identifies with the patient and at the same time maintains a distance. Empathetic communication enhances the therapeutic effectiveness of the clinician-patient relationship.
Seven Signs You’re an Empath By Isabella Snow
When in public, do you constantly feel overwhelmed with inexplicable emotions for which you can’t determine the reason?
Example. You drop by the mall one Saturday morning. You feel great. You get into the mall, walk past a crowd of people, and start feeling a bit strangely. It can be anything – you can feel very down, very angry, very sad, very excitable – the key word here is VERY. And you won’t have any explanation for it, you just feel it.
In other words, you’ve suddenly gone Bi-Polar without actually having the biological deficiency that causes it. And what’s worse, you can’t turn it off. You can carry on, trying to ignore it, but eventually it will be overwhelming to the point you just want to go home and be alone.
This is the reality of an Empath – one who hasn’t yet learned how to block other people’s emotions out. Being around other people is such a harrowing experience, most of them prefer to keep their own company, living the life of a hermit. And they usually find it very much worth it.
Do you experience other peoples physical ailments?
This is most common with those you have an emotional connection, but can occur with anyone. A very good example of this would be suddenly feeling very lethargic and fatiqued, for no reason, and having to remain in bed for a day or two. You’re not sick – not really. You’re not ill. Yet, you feel that you are, profoundly. You later find out that your “illness” coincided with a lover’s or family member’s sudden fatigue (resulting from legitimate illness)– even though they were in another country at the time and you had no idea until after the fact. Symptoms can also manifest in the form of chest pains, cramps, migraines, etc – you basically experience it all, without contracting the actual illness.
Do you feel overwhelmed when watching something horrible in real life or even on television?
This one sounds silly, but viewing the news or depressing commercials designed to induce sympathy and open wallets, can debilitate an Empath for several hours. While most people get upset over homeless dogs and cats, an Empath will often feel like their hearts have been lanced. That’s a literal definition, by the way. It’s not something as shallow as sympathy or even regular empathy. It’s a feeling of guilt and moral empathy that cannot be easily assuaged. Crying is very common – and not just during that time of month when all the emotions are out of whack!
Do you ALWAYS know what someone really means?
In other words, can you always, always, always tell what it is someone meant to say to you? More importantly, can you tell why they didn’t? If an Empath is in person with someone and they’ve just been
lied to, they will know. And they will know why. They will know if the other person is trying to spare feelings, they will know if malice was involved – in other words, they will know the intent. You cannot lie in the face of an Empath and not be caught out. While they will not usually be able to tell the specifics of what you’re hiding, they will know if you mean them well or not – no exceptions. This is more than good intuition. This isn’t a hunch, this is knowing.
Do you feel compelled to care for anyone in pain, no matter who they are and what they’ve done to you?
A true Empath cannot walk past someone suffering and not feel a need to stop and help that person. Homeless people can be particularly difficult, as they are everywhere and little can be done to help them unless the Empath has an occupation related to this. A true Empath feels compelled to go to anyone they feel pain from, be it angst or something physical. And a true Empath’s compassion will usually be accepted on the spot – people in pain, no matter how they would normally react to strangers, will receive an Empath with open arms. They know, instinctively, that their pain matters to them.
Do people open up to you – even if you don’t want them to?
Some Empaths are the new-agey peace loving types – but many just want to be alone, because they have difficulty processing everything they absorb from other people. (This is usually because they have yet to realize their abilities and haven’t learned to deal with it yet.) For an Empath, however, putting on a grumpy face doesn’t keep people they barely know drawing near and seeking compassion and empathy from them. The ill, the suffering, the weak – they are all drawn to the unconditional understanding and compassion an Empath emits. And Empaths emit it whether they want to or not.
That’s not to say Empaths can’t be mean and nasty people. They surely can be. But it’s usually those Empaths with the most profound sensitivity who have simply broken down inside and have no other way of keeping other’s emotions at bay. Again, these are Empaths who don’t know of their abilities.
Can you heal?
Most Empaths have the ability to heal. Yes, that means physically. This isn’t about Reiki or any other alternative modality – though they may seem similar in concept. An Empath heals instinctively, usually by drawing the pain or ailment out and accepting it into their own bodies. For obvious reasons, this is not recommended for anyone who doesn’t know how to keep from becoming ill in the process.
In today’s day and age, everyone seems to want to be psychic to some degree. That’s probably due our evolution as human beings. Assuming we’re evolving, and not regressing.. Therefore, many people reading this will likely think themselves Empathic. I cannot stress the following enough – there is nothing fun about being an Empath. It’s often a very draining and miserable existence in which you feel like you have to be entirely alone in order to survive. It is not glamorous, it is not exciting, it is painful more often than not.
My point here is this is not something one aspires to. If you’re an Empath, you will know this is you, you will not be saying “hmm.. maybe… hmm…” If you feel (without hesitation!) these apply to you as I’ve just described, then also know there are ways of coping, and I’ll get into them in future articles.
With a little self-awareness you can turn your curse into gift, especially when it comes to being able to ease the emotional and physical pain of others.
Simple Empathic Defence By Silver Eagle Dreamer
Ok… first things first. The difference between stray energies and directed energies. Stray energies are in the environment through the thoughts and emotions of others. These energies may be uncomfortable but are not personally directed specifically at you. They just happen to be floating around – like dust. If you’re tremendously sensitive or a developing empath, they can be anywhere from distracting to distressing but – they don’t have to be harmful to you unless you take them in. Most empaths that don’t know they’re empaths DO take them in – like dust when you’re breathing. You don’t know you are until there’s a ton of it… then you’re choking on it. Much of this energy will be without form. See, once the energy is hanging around – it begins to change because it doesn’t have anything to focus through. It will sort of dissipate after a time. Like when you spray an air freshener and it lingers for a bit but then, you can’t tell that you sprayed it anymore.
Now… when an empath is exposed to these stray formless energies – it sort of gathers like static around them and clings to their auratic field. This could have any number of effects depending on the empath. As far as your system is concerned, it’s an energy source. So let’s imagine you are feeling upset that day. You would be likely to become more so because that’s where your focus is at the time you were exposed to another energy source. (one example)
To avoid picking up stray energies, which are again, most common.. Here are a few things you can do:
1. Hematite – use it, wear it, make it your friend. I use hematite and have ever since I realized what was happening to me. Hematite is a reflective stone. Near as I can figure, it works by reflecting directed and stray energies.
2. Salt – carry it with you. Salt, chemically, is known to short out energies… breaking down atomic bonds. It does that in a spiritual sense as well. It’s an OLD remedy for negative energies and in fact, is still used in Japan for fending off negative spirits. It’s used in many cultures and practices as a means of purification. I also carry some of this with me.
3. Protective prayers…. blessing others. Ok… if you’re ticked – you’re probably not going to want to ‘bless’ anyone else. But consider this – those are the very people who DO need it the most and internally, it’s a very good thing for you to do too. Turning your focus from how ticked you are to blessing another does some wonderful things to your awareness and is well worth the effort. Protective prayers…there’s literally tons of them. Use the ones that you’re most comfortable with.
These are some easy things you can do for yourself in coping with your empathy.