The 3 Types Of Empathy And Why They Are Important

Types of Empathy

Also known as emotional contagion, this form of empathic response can help you feel more connected to others and strengthen relationships. It allows us to readily identify and experience others’ emotions and is considered important in caring professions, like caregivers, healthcare professionals & doctors. It enables us to respond to our loved ones and people in distress appropriately. However, as it can often leave you feeling overwhelmed, it can lead to empathy overload. Hence, it is important that you learn to set strong personal boundaries and practice self-control to better manage your own emotions & avoid burnout.

Read also: The Science Behind Empathy And Empaths: 5 Interesting Facts

2. Cognitive empathy

Types of Empathy cognitive

One of three main types of empathy, it refers to our capacity for identifying the perceptions, attitudes and mental states of other individuals on an intellectual level. Cognition refers to knowing or thinking. Cognitive empathy helps us understand what someone may be thinking in a given condition and realize that their cognitive states can differ from ours. Also known as theory of mind (ToM), it is often regarded as perspective-taking. This form of empathy necessitates that we utilize our cognitive processes, like intellect, inferences, attention, communication & reflection to know what someone is thinking and why they may think that way. It helps us communicate more effectively by enabling us to transfer information in the most appropriate way. 

Primarily associated with understanding, thought and intellect, cognitive empathy can be a powerful tool in understanding different perspectives, motivating others, and negotiating successfully. However, it can prevent us from experiencing other’s feelings and make us feel disconnected. Licensed professional counselor Jodi Clarke, LPC/MHSP explainsWhen we practice cognitive empathy, we are practicing taking the perspective of another person. In essence, we are imagining what it might be like to actually be this person in their situation.” 

This trait can be highly useful when you need to interact or connect with someone using understanding and thoughtfulness. However, as it typically involves empathy by thought and doesn’t involve sensing emotions, this can make you seem detached or cold. It enables you to be in someone else’s position using logic and without emotionally engaging with them. It is one of the types of empathy that may not necessarily involve sympathy and compassion, even though ‘feeling’ is considered a vital aspect of empathy. Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., author, and  Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College, explains “A person high in perspective-taking may be good at understanding others’ points of view, but may not get very involved in others’ emotions.” Unfortunately, this form of empathy can be easily used in manipulating or abusing someone without feeling any sympathy for them. 

Read also: How Narcissists Fool You With False Empathy


3. Compassionate empathy

Types of Empathy compassionate

Having empathy doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll want to help someone in need, though it’s often a vital first step toward compassionate action,” explains The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. This is where compassionate empathy comes in. According to psychologists, this is one of the types of empathy that not only enables us to understand and feel others emotions and pain, but also motivates us to help those in need. Also identified as empathic concern, it involves compassion as a crucial aspect of this empathic interaction. A 2016 study describes compassion as “a deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” This form of empathy moves us to help someone who is in pain in whatever ways we can. It is associated not only with our intellect & emotion, but also with our ability to take action. Compassionate empathy is typically considered as the ideal kind of empathy and is most appropriate with our loved ones, children and healthcare professionals. It involves the perfect balance of both empathic response and compassion and connects both the heart and the mind. It allows you to understand other’s cognitive and emotional states while maintaining your own center.

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