- The capability to understand and react appropriately to the thoughts, emotions, and conditions of others by viewing sensations and situations from their perspectives, often by using one's own experiences as a basis; the sensation of feeling or experiencing the condition of another
- The ascription of one's own feelings or emotions to an outside object or objects
Empathy is a term that is often used in a psychological sense. It implies an understanding of another person's experiences that goes beyond simple objective knowledge of what is happening to them or the emotions they are exhibiting. Rather, when someone feels empathy for another, they are experiencing the same emotions, conditions, or state of mind as the other person with whom he or she is interacting. Although it is commonly applied to situations in which a party experiences suffering or distress, one can feel empathy by identifying with any type of emotion. This notion of identification is key, and it is why those who can feel empathy are considered capable of connecting with others on one of the most fundamental, intrinsic emotional levels possible. Connecting on this level is often considered beneficial for the mental health of both parties and is thought of as essential for maintaining healthy relationships. For this reason, empathy is often stressed in the fields of psychotherapy and communication.
The level of empathy one can feel is often dependent on the situation and the specific feelings, personalities, and relationships of the people involved; thus, empathy can either come naturally or require directed mental effort. As a result, empathy is also associated with character traits such as sensitivity. Another, slightly less common usage of empathy is found in the theory of art appreciation, where the term is used to describe a person's capacity to appreciate a piece by ascribing his or her own feelings to the work.
Example: I felt a powerful surge of empathy as I watched Justin fumble through his PowerPoint slides, remembering how stressful my own presentation had been the day before.
Example: Julia claimed to have a strong feeling of empathy towards the movie, but I didn't understand how anyone could extract such strong emotions from such a dull plot.
Empathetic is an adjective most commonly used to describe either a person capable of empathy or a comment that emphasizes the sharing of an emotional experience. Empathic is another adjective that characterizes a person or comment as capable of empathy. Similarly, empathetically is an adverb that describes an action as being empathetic. To empathize is a verb which means to experience empathy.
Example: "I know how itchy you must be; I can remember how much of a pain chicken pox was for me when I had it," I said empathetically.
Empathy is frequently used interchangeably with sympathy, but the two actually have a subtle difference in meaning. The key characteristic of empathy is the perception that one is experiencing another's condition as they are. Sympathy, on the other hand, might be better described as feeling sorry for someone. Sympathy entails giving emotional support to another but is based only on objective knowledge of what the other person must be experiencing, as opposed to going through that experience with them.
Empathy comes to us from the ancient Greek concept of empatheia. Defined as "passion" or a "state of emotion," empatheia is formed from the roots "en," which can mean "in," "at," "on," or "within," and "pathos," which describes "feeling." This concept was reintroduced to the public consciousness in the 1850s by the German philosopher Rudolf Lotze, who translated the Greek word as Einfühlung, and the English form of empathy was in use by the early 1900s.
From an old Cherokee parable:
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life...
"A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.
The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
"Which wolf will win?"
The old chief simply replied,
"The one you feed."
This quote represents the dual sides to every personality. Every person is capable of displaying negative character traits and of being callous towards others. Yet every person is also capable of deep humanity and goodness, which includes connecting with the emotions of others by demonstrating empathy.
- Sharing emotions is the path to empathy!
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of empathy. Did you use empathy in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.