Empathy is a construct that appeared in psychology at the beginning of the 20th century, whose use has spread to the various branches of this discipline , generating theories and categories to unravel its components and functioning.

  • It is a positive human quality and an inescapable ability to found sustainable relationships in complex social systems.
  • It is the ability of individuals to feel identified with the problems of their peers. 
  • It is personal and interpersonal . Individuals relate to others and, at best, create or deepen relationships with others.

Empathy as something collaborative

It is understood as a cooperative activity , which implies openness and receptivity, biological connotations, communication and dialogue.

It is essential for the definition of empathy and empathic relationships to know how the other individual feels, but not only by subjective interpretation, but also by the relationship with that other.

In addition, it is understood as a way of life based on the emotional relationship and understanding of the other.

Characteristics of empathy

It therefore has a series of particular traits: it is personal, interpersonal, cooperative, open, receptive, communicative, interpretive, interactive, practical, emotional, cognitive, moral , behavioral and seeks to form a relationship with another.

Empathy is not the same as sympathy . Sympathy is the quality of being kind. The nice person finds the positive in the problem he hears, seeks the approval of the other, takes the time to enunciate the appropriate words.

You may seem emotionally compromised , but you don’t really understand the situation the other is telling you. Obviously, that does not exclude that a nice person is also empathetic, but they are two different qualities.

And, as has been seen, this goes further . He does not seek to see the positive part of the problem he hears, he only seeks to understand the other individual.

It does not require the approval of the person who listens , it is interested in the emotions without judging.

The sympathetic seeks to be liked and the empath wants to understand and acknowledge the feelings of the other person. At work, both qualities are important , but it strengthens working relationships and makes them more authentic.

Trends in the study of empathy

The trend in the study of empathy prefers to understand it from an integrative perspective, which includes cognitive and affective aspects.

The cognitive empathy is the ability to identify and understand both emotions perspective of another person from an objective position (Morse et to the., 1992). 

This cognitive factor is one of the traits that distinguish it from sympathy and compassion. And it is that cognitive empathy is a “detached concern”. The people identify with the experience of others , without having to remember an emotional response. And this is the fundamental difference of the other level of empathy, the affective one.

The cognitive empathy can occur without obvious presence of affective. The cognitive empathic experience goes through a process of empathic self – perception , key to differentiate one’s own experience from that of the other.

At this point, it should be recognized that many times an individual can accept that, ” although he does not feel like the other, he understands what he is feeling and, consequently, he can behave according to that feeling .”

The various dimensions of empathy

From this integrative perspective, this is a multi-dimensional construct that encompasses four distinct , yet interrelated elements .

  1. In the cognitive dimension , fantasy appears (tendency to identify with fictional characters),
  2. The adoption of perspectives (it is the acceptance of cognitive perspectives).
  3. In the affective dimension of empathy, “empathic anguish” (the tendency to feel compassion and concern for the other) has been highlighted
  4. The personal distress (anxiety experienced by the witness be an unwelcome for another event).

It has also been recognized as a component of ” socio-emotional intelligence “, specifically interpersonal skills .

In this way, empathy is the ability to be aware of and conceive of the emotions and ideas of others. In this sense, it is again positioned as a cognitive mechanism . However, this perspective reduces it to its cognitive component, which is not correct.

Within the integrative vision of empathy , research in psychology defends the thesis of delving into its various components, noted above, on the one hand, and, on the other, specifying the mechanisms involved in it.

Examples of empathy

It allows individuals to establish true and lasting personal and social relationships . But, it also occurs in fictional situations, such as when reading a novel or watching a movie.

Human beings in general tend to identify with the suffering of others. From the most extreme testimonial situations to the abandonment of a dog in the street, they can produce empathic feelings.

The scenarios are very diverse. Empaths are those who help individuals with disabilities or in a situation that requires support . In interpersonal treatment, empathic people give the necessary importance to the stories and anecdotes of others.

People who share the joy or happiness of other people, identifying with them. Feeling identification with the pain that some natural catastrophe has produced for others.

Situations related to empathy

It is essential in school bullying . The empathic subject protects and defends the victim . In a broader and more abstract aspect, empathy also manifests itself in the face of social injustices.

In the workplace , it plays a very important role at various levels: it allows you to take the time and the right attitude to maintain a supportive relationship with your co-workers.

Likewise, it strengthens collective and concerted agreements, which facilitate problem solving; allows logistics operation and better production; open the minds of employees without fear of judgment; promotes “mirror neurons”, making all employees feel like part of the company as well.

In the field of healthcare it is essential . The importance of the professional relationship of doctors with their patients and the empathy of the doctor-patient relationship is known. In this connection, the relationship of the Psychotherapist or Psychoanalyst with their patients, called therapeutic empathy, stands out.

The above places empathy in a preponderant place in social competence. That is, it has a value that transcends the subjective and accesses a social dimension. Therapeutic empathy is inscribed in social competence, in the sum of abilities and skills of people in a health area.

Empathy and the communication world

Therapeutic empathy is a necessary part of communicational competence and, at the same time, of clinical competence .

In the doctor-patient relationship , this is manifested not only by the natural and human commitment of the specialists, if it is not a necessity and a determining factor to achieve the therapeutic objectives.

And in this sense, more than a decision, it is a necessity that therapeutic empathy be part of the study program of the medical career and its specialties. Obviously, even more so in careers such as psychology and psychiatry.

Another field where empathy is fundamental is in education. Teachers, like doctors, work with human groups. Each person is a world, each young person, each student. Education professionals are given to maintain an empathic bond with their students, which allows them to enhance their interest in knowledge.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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