THE 3 FACES OF EMPATHY

                      Why is Empathy is so important?

        In order to appreciate why empathy is so important, one must understand the true nature of empathy. Empathy is usually described as the ability feel other people’s emotions, but empathy encompasses much more than this.     

                                 What is Empathy?

        Some researchers speak of empathy as encompassing two components: affective or emotional empathy and cognitive empathy. While these two components of empathy are often thought of as one, they are really two separate abilities. Other researchers speak about another component of empathy: compassion or compassionate empathy. Why is a differentiation made between these different components of empathy? The reason is that they can lead to different logical conclusions.

                        Affective or Emotional Empathy

       Affective or Emotional Empathy is the feelings people experience when they respond to the emotions of others. It is the ability to experience the pain, anxiety or fear when one sees others displaying these emotions. This component of empathy is that part that allows people to be affected by the emotions they see others experiencing. This is something that many people experience without being able to move beyond this threshold of affective empathy.

                  Cognitive Empathy or Perspective Taking

       Cognitive empathy is often referred to as perspective taking, because it deals with people’s ability to understand how other people are feeling under particular circumstances. It is this form of empathy that allows people to imagine what others may be feeling or thinking in the situation. Having this form of empathy is fundamental to understanding the world around and it helps people to interact with others. This empathy works because people are also able to see the perspective of other people. It is thought that this form of empathy is something that people can learn, as they can be taught how to recognize the emotional state of others and how to respond to this state. This component of empathy determines morality, for it is based on the Golden rule, or doing unto others as you would have others do to you.

                      Compassion or Compassionate Empathy

       Another component of empathy according to some is that of compassionate empathy. While people may be able to feel the emotions that another person is going through (affective empathy) and may be able to imagine and understand what the other person may be thinking and feeling (cognitive empathy), there is yet another component of empathy: compassion or compassionate empathy. Compassionate empathy is reaching out to others to offer help. This is not an automatic aspect of empathy. There are many people who could feel, who could even imagine and understand the feelings, but who are not moved to take action that could help to change the circumstances. Compassionate empathy is what moves people to take action on behalf of others.

       Helen Reiss in her book, The Empathy Effect, speaks of empathy as embracing all three components, as it allows someone to observe and feel, imagine and understand and finally as a result of these two components to act with compassion towards those in need.

       These three components are mostly at work in times of natural or other disasters where people are often moved to provide help for those who are distressed.

                   Can someone have Empathy and still not Help?

        This is quite possible and happens quite often. Simply seeing someone in distress does not necessarily move a person to take action. That person could simply feel sad, or anxious, or fearful as he or she observes the emotions of the other person. Even when the person observing moves to imagine what the other person may be thinking and feeling, he or she may not be moved to do anything about the situation. This person may still be said to have empathy. However, it is when empathy becomes compassionate that a person is moved to give some form of assistance.

                     Why is Empathy Important?

       Empathy is important because possessing it in its entirety enables individuals to move to the logical conclusion to help others solve many problems. Empathy allows for people to see the perspective of others, and this could lead to peaceful coexistence despite the difference of ideas.

Israelin Shockness can be reached at www.successfulyouthliving.com and at www.successfulyouthlivingblog.com.

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