The Importance of Empathy
Empathy involves the ability to emotionally understand what another person is experiencing. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else's position and feeling what they must be feeling. When you see another person suffering, you might be able to instantly envision yourself in the other person's place and feel sympathy for what they are going through.
While people are generally pretty well-attuned to their own feelings and emotions, getting into someone else's head can be a bit more difficult. The ability to feel empathy allows people to "walk a mile in someone's else's shoes," so to speak. It permits people to understand the emotions that others are feeling.
For many, seeing another person in pain and responding with indifference or even outright hostility seems utterly incomprehensible. But the fact that some people do respond in such a way clearly demonstrates that empathy is not necessarily a universal response to the suffering of others.
Affective empathy involves the ability to understand another person's emotions and respond appropriately. Such emotional understanding may lead to someone feeling concerned for another person's well-being, or it may lead to feelings of personal distress.
Somatic empathy involves having a sort of physical reaction in response to what someone else is experiencing. People sometimes physically experience what another person is feeling. When you see someone else feeling embarrassed, for example, you might start to blush or have an upset stomach.
Cognitive empathy involves being able to understand another person's mental state and what they might be thinking in response to the situation. This is related to what psychologists refer to as theory of mind, or thinking about what other people are thinking.
Benefits of Empathy
There are a number of benefits of being able to experience empathy. Some of these include:
Empathy allows people to build social connections with others. By understanding what people are thinking and feeling, people are able to respond appropriately in social situations.
Empathizing with others helps you learn to regulate your own emotions. Emotional regulation is important in that it allows you to manage what you are feeling, even in times of great stress, without becoming overwhelmed.
Empathy promotes helping behaviors. Not only are you more likely to engage in helpful behaviors when you feel empathy for other people; other people are also more likely to help you when they experience empathy.
Without empathy, people tend to go about life without considering how other people feel or what they may be thinking. Each of us has differing perspectives. We all experience moods, pain and hurt, joy and sadness. And we are so limited when we only see our own perspective. Without taking a moment to assess another, it is easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions. This often leads to misunderstandings, bad feelings, conflict, poor morale, and even divorce. People do not feel heard or understood.
When you use empathy to understand why someone is angry or when a child is acting out, for instance, you might learn that something happened at home that is upsetting them for instance, their mother is ill, or the child has no food at home to eat and is hungry. Instead of reacting to the emotions of another or becoming defensive, you can ask questions about their behavior or emotional state. There still may need to be discipline or consequences to their behavior, but by using empathy first, the person feels valued and heard and therefore, will more easily accept responsibility for their actions.
Empathy is the missing link in families, in our schools, and in our workplaces. As we grow up, kids can often be mean to each other. If we start teaching empathy in grade school and middle school, then perhaps we would grow up being more loving and tolerant and understanding of each other.
In today's fast paced culture it's easy to overlook this powerful human emotion. With so many people viewing life through the screen of their phone it's important to take the time and to make the effort to see life through someone else's eyes.
The BPT Team