Empathy is an essential trait that enables us to better understand relationships. But did you know there are 3 different types of empathy according to psychologists? Understanding these types can help us become more empathetic and connect better with others.
Empathy is important
How do you respond to someone experiencing difficult emotions like sadness, stress, anxiety or even anger? Although most of us may react in a way we may not think is ideal, the most thoughtful way to respond is with empathy. Researchers believe that empathy “plays a crucial role in the process of making moral judgments, moral motivation, moral development, and the cultivation of meaningful personal relationships.” The truth is, the significance of empathy in our lives simply cannot be overlooked. But empathy is not always the same as we tend to exhibit different types of empathy in different circumstances and relationships.
Empathy refers to our ability to identify, feel and understand what another individual, animal, or even fictional character is feeling or experiencing. It involves a variety of complex emotional states that allow us to place ourselves in someone else’s position and imagine their emotions. It involves a wide range of different elements and is crucial for our emotional intelligence (EQ). Empathy enables us to connect with others, build lifelong relationships and be compassionate. According to a 2003 study “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.” It is regarded as the “most important human attribute” in every aspect of our life and plays a crucial role in social and interpersonal relationships. It empowers us to share emotions & experiences and helps build a connection encouraging prosocial behavior.
Read also: 10 Signs You Have Above Average Empathy
Types of empathy
As empathy is a vast concept, we often tend to appropriately show different kinds of empathy in different situations. Hence, psychologists have identified 3 distinct types of empathy that we may commonly feel. These include – emotional, cognitive & compassionate empathy. These three forms of empathic responses tend to manifest in unique ways based on our own personal experiences in life.
Let us explore these different types and gain a better understanding about how empathic we truly are:
1. Emotional empathy
This kind of empathy occurs when you experience another person’s emotions along with them, as if their emotions are contagious. Emotional empathy enables you to physically experience someone else’s pain. Hence, you may experience an upset stomach or may vomit when someone is in pain. According to psychologists Sara D. Hodges & Michael W. Myers, emotional empathy includes three primary aspects:
- Experiencing the same emotions as another individual
- Experiencing personal distress due to the other’s pain & suffering
- Experiencing compassion for the affected individual
Also identified as affective empathy, it can make you experience certain physical sensations as they are triggered by mirror neuron responses in the somatic nervous system in our brain. As you can physically experience another’s emotions, you are better able to connect with their emotional state. However, this can be a difficult and problematic trait for people who have trouble setting up personal boundaries as it can leave them feeling drained and exhausted due to other’s suffering. Among the three types of empathy, emotional empathy can feel the most overwhelming and can seem inappropriate in some situations. However, it is not necessarily a negative experience.