Empathy is the basis of all the human connections. Empathy “happens” when other person is able to experience within himself the same emotional condition, which I am experiencing in a given situation, and then other person acknowledges and expresses to me, how it feels to be there. Other person also feels empathy with me, when I do the same. Empathy is the deepest level of emotional oneness which happens between two individuals. It is an amazing feeling of oneness, connectedness and love.
Sympathy on the other hand, which is mostly confused with empathy, is almost the opposite of empathy! Sympathy is trying to understand other person’s condition and then offering consolation or solutions, without having experienced that specific emotional condition within oneself. Sympathy doesn’t connect two individuals, to the depth, to which empathy connects.
Sympathy is a phenomena, when other person is not able to exactly understand how I feel, but evaluates/judges my situation in a certain way. Other person in this case may give a lot of space and time and may be very nice behaviorally, but his inability to connect with my emotional condition, leaves a void within me. I do not feel connected with the person. Sympathy is often accompanied with the feeling of superiority in the person sympathizing and pity for other person. Nobody likes to be pitied.
The person sympathizing may many a times feel that he understands how it feels to be there in a given situation, but in reality he may not. He may feel that he is empathizing, but in reality, he may be sympathizing. The right of decision, whether the person is sympathizing or empathizing, generally lies with the person on the receiving end. The receiver only can decide, what has happened – Sympathy or Empathy!
Empathy is deep, Sympathy is superficial. Empathy drives connection, Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy gives comfort, Sympathy brings void. Empathy strengthens the bonding, Sympathy weakens it. Empathy makes a person attractive, Sympathy makes a person repulsive.
In all human conditions, Empathy breeds Trust, Empathy breeds Respect, Empathy breeds Affection and Empathy breeds Love! Without empathy, no amounts of money, no amounts of power, no amounts of nice behavior and hospitality can bring connection between two human beings. Empathy is the basis of all the human connections.
Capability doesn’t necessarily imply Actualization. All human beings are “Capable” of feeling Empathy, but capability doesn’t necessarily imply actualization. Empathy comes with experience and understanding. The more and diverse experiences I have, the more and diverse thought processes I am aware of, the more and diverse emotional states I am aware of or have experienced in past, the more I am vigilant and understanding of my own experiences, thoughts and emotions, the more I will be able to empathize with others. It takes a lot of experiences and inner-connectedness to feel empathy with other person. Introspection and inner-connectedness are necessary to have empathy, but they are not sufficient. Experience of diverse human conditions, understanding of diverse human emotions, understanding of diverse thought processes, are also essential to feel empathy. The more one explores in various human dimensions, the more empathetic one keeps becoming.
There are 4 Components of Empathy. Empathy requires four things to be done. They are:
1. Perspective Taking.
2. Staying out of Judgements.
3. Connecting and experiencing within oneself what other person is going through.
4. Expressing how it feels to be there.
Perspective taking is the process of seeing the situation from the reference point of other person. Staying out of judgements is essential, if one wishes to feel empathy. In fact, empathy kills judgements. If one is really able to feel empathy with other person, the judgements will automatically go away! Empathy requires connecting within myself to the same emotional condition, which other person is going through. And, finally expressing to other person what it feels like to be in that situation, is essential to bring comfort. In fact, in case of empathy, it happens automatically. In empathy, all the 4 things above happen automatically.
Empathy enriches one’s perspective. Empathy develops the capability in a person to see the same situation from multiple perspectives. In fact the reverse is also true. The more perspectives one is able to see the same situation from, the more empathetic one keeps becoming. Lack of understanding of subjectivity of human condition, is one of the main reasons for lack of empathy.
Empathy kills Judgements. To feel empathy, one has to go beyond one’s notions of “good” and “bad”. Different thoughts and emotions which human beings experience in their daily life, are not bound with the ideas of “good” and “bad”. Any type of thoughts and emotions may come in a human being. If one is too immersed in one’s notions of good and bad, if one’s perception is too colored with the ideas of ‘this is good’ and ‘that is bad’, if one is too judgmental, then one will not be able to feel empathy and others will not feel comfortable with that person.
Empathy Builds Relationships: Connecting, Experiencing and Expressing. Empathy Builds Acceptance. Acceptance and Emotional comfort are the keys to good relationships. Empathy breeds acceptance and emotional comfort. When other person is able to connect with my emotional condition, experiences the same within himself and expresses how it feels to be there, it brings me a lot of emotional comfort. Other person also feels comfortable with me, when I do the same. When I am able to connect with other person at this emotional level, then it also builds acceptance. Acceptance is one of the foundational building blocks of any relationship.
Empathy increases understanding of Human Nature. The more one is able to empathize, the more one is able to understand and appreciate different human conditions and perspectives, the more one is able to understand different thought processes, the more one is able to understand different emotional conditions, the more one grows one’s understanding of human nature. One is able to see that innate nature of a human being is good. One is able to see that human being is innately good, but is unable to actualize the goodness, due to certain limitations. An empathetic person is able to understand and appreciate even those limitations. He is not judgmental about the limitations. An empathetic person understands and even respects the imperfection of human beings in their current state of being, since he is or he has been through that imperfection himself and he understands how it feels to be there.
With the increased understanding of human nature, when an empathetic person comes in contact with a human being, he is not able to empathize with, because of the limitation of his experiences, he is still compassionate with him. Compassion builds with more empathy. Compassion is the “Trust in Innate Goodness” of a human being. The more one is able to empathize, the more Trust one builds in Innate Goodness of a human being, the more compassion one builds within oneself for human beings in general.
Empathy in the beginning is generally limited by one’s own experiences in life and awareness within oneself. It is also not possible to have all the experiences of all the kinds in life, but the more one builds empathy and awareness within oneself, the more one breaks free from the limitations of experiences, and the more one develops compassion for human beings in general.
Empathetic Guidance is well received by everyone. Guidance, specially in life related matters, is a thing which one is not receptive to, when given without empathy. Knowledge cannot be imposed on anybody. I am ready to listen to other person when I trust other person’s knowledge, I find his knowledge good for me, I trust other person as a human being and when I feel empathy from other person. When empathy in other person is absent, I am not receptive to him, even if he is saying something really useful. Knowledge, when served in the plate of Empathy, is well taken by everyone. Empathy makes other person more receptive. It loosens his rigidity and preconceived notions.
Empathy is a solution to internal peace, good relationships and societal harmony. When I am able to empathize with other person, when I am able understand other person’s situation better, when I understand why other person did/does what he did/does, then it increases my acceptance for other person. When my acceptance for other person increases, I feel more peaceful and comfortable within. Non-Acceptance brings internal disturbance. Acceptance bring peace within. The more my acceptance increases for other person, the more other person also feels comfortable with me and that leads to mutual fulfillment and complementarity in relationships. When people in a society become more empathetic, more accepting and their relationships improve with each other, it contributes a lot to the harmony in society.
Following resources summarize Empathy very very well. Please spend some time watching them.
1. Following short video by Dr. Brene Brown summarizes Empathy quite well!
2. Empathy can change the world.