Empathy is a word used to describe a wide range of experiences. It is what facilitates prosocial or, in other words, helping and charitable behaviour that comes from within and is not forced. This makes us a more compassionate society that is willing to understand each other’s feelings and take action. Alfred Adler an Austrian medical doctor, psychotherapist and founder of Adlerian psychology, also known as individual psychology also says “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.”
As a word, we hear it a lot, but it is just not simply a combination of letters. It is not another word in the dictionary. It is one of the aspects that make us human. Before we dive in let’s get some things straight.
Empathy vs. Sympathy vs. Compassion
Empathy stands in polarity to sympathy which is the ability to truly understand what other person is feeling, however, it is without the emotional layer that comes with it. We should also be able to differentiate from compassion though both are used in the same context. Compassion is the willingness to relieve the suffering of another, means the desire to act upon whatever the person is going through.
Empathy goes far beyond sympathy, which might be considered ‘feeling for someone’. Empathy instead is ‘feeling with someone’, through the use of imagination.
According to psychotherapist’s Empathy is a skill that can be developed and, as with most interpersonal skills, empathising comes naturally to some people.
Is Empathy the same for everyone, around the globe?
No, same as fear, happiness and sadness vary from person to person so does empathy. Therefore, there are many aspects of empathy just like there are many ways to feel; there are many ways to express and experience empathy.
The 3 different Kinds of Empathy
According to The Atlantic’s article “A Short History of Empathy” point out: “The term’s only been around for about a century—but over the course of its existence, its meaning has continually changed ”
Considering empathy important we can’t ignore the types of empathy that we experience or express.
This is why psychologist have defined three kinds of empathy listed below:
- Cognitive Empathy is understanding another’s thoughts and emotions accurately, rather than emotional sense. In this, you are able to yourself into someone else’s place and see their perspective. It helps in negotiations, empowering others and understanding the various point of views still keeping you disconnected from deep emotions
- Emotional Empathy also called as affective or primitive empathy is the subjective state resulting from emotional contagion, meaning you feel physically along with another person. This kind of empathy happens automatically, and often unconsciously and is more beneficial in close interpersonal skills and professions like doctors, nurses and HR.
- Compassionate Empathy is what we usually understand by empathy, i.e feeling someone’s pain, and taking action and taking action to help. It is the type we should all strive for as this kind of empathy considers the whole person and is a balance between Cognitive and Emotional Empathy. Great leaders show compassion when they are truly listening because their actions show that they do not just understand but also genuinely care for their team members.
How should I display Empathy during COVID-19 crisis?
Maintaining a sense of normality
During the times of crisis, it is very easy to feel isolated and lonely and this hence applies to both people you love and anyone you know who may be suffering from the virus. So, try to make an effort to show people that you are there. Social Distancing does not mean that we are distancing emotionally as well.
Use this time to connect with them in a way you never ever had before.
Take care of yourself
It is normal to be worried and uncertain during this time. But it is hard to take care of others if you neglect yourself. So being self-aware and sensing when its time to take a step back and have a break, and treat yourself like you have never had before.
Instead, you can
- Read a new book
- Create a new workout routine
- Start learning new skill or polishing existing ones
- Volunteer online
- Reconnect with loved ones(try with video on to feel closer!)
Keep the communication
During an obstacle which is of such a large amplitude and uncontrollable, we start facing communicative challenges. A lack of human connection can be more harmful than obesity, high blood pressure and smoking according to this article.
Communication is the foundation upon which we build all our relationships, thus maintaining it can keep us far from anxiety and depression as it helps us to regulate emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and improve our immune systems.
At some point, all of this war against the COVID-19 pandemic will be over and life will get back to normal but what will be remembered is how we responded during the time of crisis. This is the best time to truly show what you are all about. It is time to express empathy by empowering others. It is about how well you adapt to the situation and being solution-oriented at the same time.And it is the time of empathy we develop naturally. We realise it is what keeps us going through times likes these. It is what makes people break the wall of their comfort zone and choose to go far beyond the line of duty because the feeling with one another is not a task, it is simply instinct. And we have never needed it more than we do now.