Can Empathy Be Taught? 3 Easy Ways to Practice

Empathy is an important layer of human connection. It makes communication clearer and more effective. It also allows us to form deeper and more meaningful relationships.

A good number of us overlook the power of empathy though. Sometimes on a daily basis. Some of us think there is not enough time to be touchy-feeling. Others think it’s not that important.

Some of us fear empathy will leave us emotionally and mentally depleted. Others don’t even know how to improve their empathic skills, or if that’s even a possibility.

What is Empathy?

The word “empathy” comes from the German word “Einfühlung”. This word was used in the 1850s to describe the feeling or emotional response of a person when interacting with a piece of Art.

Later that century, psychologist Theodor Lipps worked and further developed this concept. He defined empathy as the “feeling of one’s way into the experience of another”.

Empathy is a very sacred space. It’s where we allow ourselves to understand, share, and care about each other’s experiences. It also requires a great deal of vulnerability and courage from us.

Empathy is delicate and complex. According to scholars, it comprises three aspects:

  • perspective-taking
  • emotion sharing, and
  • compassion

In the majority of people, these three components work together. In some cases, however, only one or two of these might be active. 

The 3 Types of Empathy

Based on the three different aspects of empathy, we can say there are three types of empathy. These are:

  • cognitive empathy,
  • emotional empathy,
  • and compassionate empathy

Let’s have a closer look into these next and later learn how to practice and develop them.

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy is based on a person’s capacity for perspective-taking. This represents the ability to see another person’s viewpoint. 

This type of empathy allows us to know what the other person feels. If your friend receives a promotion, you know or recognise the reason why that person is excited.

Cognitive empathy is to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. It is a more rational and logical approach toward another person’s feelings.

It is possible to display cognitive empathy without any sympathy. This means some people may logically understand why you feel a certain way but fail to feel or help. It is often the case when people have narcissistic tendencies.

Emotional Empathy 

Emotional empathy requires the ability to share and feel each other’s emotions. It means you can feel what other people feel. This type of empathy is where feelings play a bigger role.

If you display emotional empathy, you are more likely to experience emotional contagion. If a friend talks about their plans for the weekend, you will feel similar emotions to the ones they are having.

Being sensitive to people’s emotions, you might feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster. If not coupled with self-regulation skills, emotional empathy can bring you distress.

It is important to prevent empathy overload. What is that? It’s the experience of getting too overwhelmed by negative emotions. It can drastically reduce your capacity to respond.

Compassionate Empathy

Compassionate empathy involves feelings of compassion toward the other person. Compassion can be described as a warm or caring feeling for another person.

When you display this type of empathy, you feel warmth toward the friend that tells you about a recent achievement. You feel positive and you offer them emotional or even practical support.

This component is likely the one we associate with empathy the most. We feel the other person’s emotions and we take action. This action aims to either reduce their suffering or elate their positivity.

Compassionate empathy is somewhat of a compromise between cognitive and emotional empathy. It is a balance between logic and emotion when relating to others.

How to Practise and Develop Empathy 

Are we born with empathy? Or do we learn and mature it? In the past, empathy was thought of as an inborn trait. People would either be born with it or not. Nowadays, experts believe you can learn and expand it. 

As long as there are no serious neuropsychological conditions, you can learn empathetic skills. Here are three easy ways to practice and develop empathy:

Read Books and Use Your Imagination

An easy and good way to practice and develop your empathetic skills is to read and use your imagination! See it as a pre-training before you do the same when interacting with other people.

While you read, imagine what each character is feeling and witnessing as the story unfolds. Do the same when someone talks to you. Try to imagine what it feels like to be them.

Listen to Others With the Intent to Learn

There are times in which we are holding a conversation but we are not truly listening. We are only waiting for our time to say something back! 

Instead of spending your time thinking about what you are going to say next try to simply listen. Set the intention to learn more about the other person and act as if your life depended on it! 

Give Comfort or Encouragement 

If someone feels upset about something, accommodate their feelings. Set that intention. Offer them a safe and non-judgmental space to share whatever they need.

If someone shares positive emotions or news with you, reinforce their positivity. Focus on the goodness of what they are sharing with you and encourage them to celebrate it.

Concluding Thoughts 

Empathetic skills come more naturally to some people than to others. However, experts believe empathy can be taught. There are empathetic skills which are teachable.

Too much or too little empathy can lead to unhealthy relationships. Caring too much or too little about your partner may severe the relationship.

Poor or lack of self-regulation skills can also lead to empathy overload. Eventually, it can also contribute to poor mental health. The world needs more empathy to thrive but not at the cost of your emotional well-being.

Self-care is key to making sure we remain healthily empathetic. It will also enable us to respond properly to other people’s emotions and needs.

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22 Comments

  1. This is such a great, educational and super interesting post! I learnt so much from this post so thank you so much for sharing it with us lovely. Really great read Xo

    Elle – ellegracedeveson.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Elle 😊 I’m glad you liked this one. Thanks for stopping by! 💖

      Like

  2. Ezioma Kalu says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful and insightful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Benny says:

      Such a great post on a topic that I used to struggle with myself. Especially the emotional empathy. I used to take too much of it to heart and would feel heavy, which ties in well with the compassionate empathy. I love how you use reading as a tool, as it was reading that gave me a different perspective on this. And not just the philosophical works, but mainly the novels and sci-fi. Thank you

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Benny. I’m glad you liked this one on empathy. I appreciate your feedback and shared experience. It’s good to know the reading example resonated with you 🙏

        Like

    2. Thank you for reading and offering your feedback, Ezioma. I appreciate it 💖

      Like

  3. zacthrav says:

    I love that imagination should be used to learn empathy. Stories can connect us on so many levels and imagination is key to that. If you feel an emotion towards a character in a film then you are displaying empathy, and it is something we are all capable of. The trouble is, I have experienced, it can be seen as a weakness. As a highly sensitive person I have discovered that this is my strengh, and my emotional connection to others can help them find understanding and acceptance. We need more empaths in positions of power, we need more magic. Great post, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you, Zac 💯 Thank you for sharing your perspective. Sometimes it’s a bit tough for highly sensitive to handle empathy effectively. Imagination is a great tool. I will try to bring more content focused on this topic too. Thank you for stopping by 🙏

      Like

  4. KeyToKaya says:

    Beautiful post, so insightful I learned a lot. Empathy is so important.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 😊 I’m glad you learned with us ❤️

      Like

  5. Meadow says:

    I know that empathy is very important. But as a naturally emphatic person, I could say that it’s really hard to live with it. For example, I’m crying a lot because I feel empathy to every random person or even animal 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’m right there with you on that experience. It is tough to navigate in a world where empathy seems to decrease (and science has shown it already). A super empathetic person is still seen as an alien sometimes. I will try to bring more content about how to cope and manage high empathy 💞 Have you taken the Highly Sensitive Person test?

      You can do it here:
      🔗 https://wp.me/P8qOa1-3xD

      And there is one article about HSPs you might like too:
      🔗 https://wp.me/p8qOa1-3wl

      Like

  6. Compassionate and emotional empathy I feel like sometimes is more rare and not as common as it used to be. I have felt like sometimes that people are have not be been showing caring and kindness as it once was before. Great information.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found a piece of research that suggests exactly that, sadly. That’s also why I wanted to offer some exercises here, but I look forward to expand more on this subject soon 😊 Thank you for sharing your perspective and taking the time to read 🙏 I also do think it is decreasing and we need to raise awareness 💞

      Like

  7. It’s so important to have empathy. I have given too much in the past to the point where it’s affected my mental health. I find that if I’m under stress, I’m less empathetic. Reading books is a great way to build empathy. Thanks for sharing. Jade MumLifeAndMe

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great point, stress does indeed decrease empathy. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jade 💞

      Like

  8. Great piece, Vanessa!
    I liked how you explained people can demonstrate cognitive empathy but lack emotional empathy. This is the part that many empaths struggle with when encountering those with personality disorders. Thanks for sharing.
    Many Blessings,
    Lisa

    Like

  9. We never thought about the different types of empathy. Thank you so much for sharing your insights.

    Like

  10. Blogs by J says:

    I enjoyed reading about this! Empathy is something very interesting to me. I am what they call a “highly sensitive person” or HSP. It is a blessing and also a curse lol. Keep up the great work hun!

    Like

  11. Cassie says:

    Very interesting, Vanessa. I fully agree that empathy allows for greater connection and understanding between people. I am in the camp that empathy is innate. I feel like people are either born with the capacity toward empathy or not (ex. sociopaths). While you’re born with it, it’s also something that develops through life and experience. I also think it can be viewed on a spectrum with some people far more sensitive to empathy than others. I never even considered it could be taught. I can see where you’re coming from on that though. Thank you for sharing.

    ~ Cassie

    Like

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