What is empathy?

We explain what empathy is and why it is considered a value. In addition, some examples of this ability and what is assertiveness.

  1. What is empathy?

When we talk about empathy we mean the human capacity to connect emotionally with others , being able to perceive, recognize, share and understand the suffering, happiness or emotions of another. That is, it is an immediate and unconscious reaction, which does not go through reason and intellect, and that leads us to affectively participate in the situation of another human being.

Empathy is a highly valued characteristic in human behavior, often linked to the ability to overcome differences in class, culture or race to connect with the needs of the other. In that sense it is linked to compassion and altruism, and is opposed to selfishness and antipathy.

Although psychology has no definitive concepts of empathy, it is usual to classify it into two categories, which are:

Affective empathy . Also called emotional empathy, it is based on emotional contagion, that is, the ability to get the emotions that another person feels, and be affected by them. It can occur in two degrees of intensity:

  • Empathic concern . It occurs to the extent that we allocate part of our mental energy to think about someone else’s problems, whether or not they are in their presence.
  • Own grief . The suffering of others is suffered “in their own flesh”, that is, it makes a dent in their own spirit and triggers even similar physiological reactions.

Cognitive empathy . It depends on the ability to understand the posture of another, that is, to “put yourself in your shoes.” This can happen, again, in two ways:

  • Assumption of perspective . The tendency to adopt the views of another, or at least to understand, reason and take them for granted.
  • Fantasy . The projective capacity of the human mind to assume an identification with imaginary entities or characters, or to link with ideas of the order of the unreal.
  1. Empathy as a value

Empathy is linked to the more traditional notions of compassion and generosity.

The use of the term empathy in the various philosophical or psychological doctrines is recent, dating from the twentieth century and as a result of a greater scientific understanding of the mental dimensions of the human being. Empathy, however, is linked to the more traditional notions of compassion and generosity , which have a very old religious and cultural background, in fact they are among the theological virtues of Christianity.

This means that empathy is born as a value , as a positive characteristic, which is commonly considered as an indication of goodness or purity . However, depending on the context it could be linked to weakness, for example, in professional or vital situations that require a cold head and tight emotional control.

  1. Empathy Examples

Some everyday examples of empathy can be:

  • When watching a movie or reading a book, one feels identified with a character rather than the others, and can suffer with it various situations.
  • The feeling of piety or pain that is perceived in situations of injustice or suffering of others, whether live, watching documentaries, etc.
  • The ability to intercede in a dispute in favor of a person because their arguments are believed to be valid or their point of view is correct.
  • When we disobey explicit rules to help a person in need, it seems to us their pain more important than fidelity to the law.
  • Defend weak people from bullying situations.
  • When in the presence of a physical or bodily injury, for example, of an athlete, we “feel” as if we had suffered it ourselves.
  1. Empathy and assertiveness

Empathy and assertiveness are terms of common use in contemporary psychology, although they do not mean the same . If empathy is the ability to connect with the emotions or thoughts of the other, assertiveness is rather linked to the ability to tell the other what is thought frankly, honestly, but delicately, without hurting their feelings and, over all, perceiving what is the best way to do it.

It is a communicative value, since assertive people achieve in their recipients a better disposition to understanding and acceptance, which requires an important dose of empathy from the issuer, in order to perceive which is the best way to communicate that truth that could be painful: when, how and where it is better to do it.

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