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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