When you can emotionally understand what another individual is experiencing, that’s empathy. When you empathize with someone, you’re putting yourself in their position. In doing so, you’re feeling what they’re experiencing. If you see someone suffering, it may be a natural reaction for you to put yourself in their place. Doing that allows you to feel sympathy for their situation.
Typically, people can well-attune themselves to their emotions and what they’re feeling. However, it becomes more challenging when trying to do that for someone else. Doing that allows you to put yourself in that individual’s shoes, metaphorically, and empathize. Empathy permits individuals to gain an in-depth understanding of the feelings of others.
Edward B Titchener is the first to coin the word “empathy.” It comes from a German translation of the word “Einfühlung.” In this article, we’re going to answer the question, “why is empathy important,” by digging a bit deeper into empathy types and compassion vs empathy.
What is Empathy?
Throughout this guide, you’ll see references to the word “empathy.” It doesn’t mean you’re feeling sorry for someone else, which is sympathy. Instead, you’re feeling “with” another person. You recognize your feelings when perceiving others. A logical response when possessing empathy is acting compassionately.
Empathy depends on particular parts of the brain that evolved to allow emotional connections. That also leads to the motivation for caring. Pain pathways light up in our minds when we see someone else experiencing pain. It happens to a lesser degree, though, because it’s empathy’s emotional component. That emotional component is otherwise known as emotional resonance.
It’s impossible to depend on emotional resonance by itself. The main reason is that it tends to be stronger for individuals who have similarities to you, which is problematic in many situations. That’s where empathy’s cognitive component becomes valuable.
The cognitive component of empathy means you understand that your feelings aren’t always the same as others. We can soothe any discomfort we’re feeling by separating our pain from theirs. However, we’re remaining curious about their situation. Empathy involves understanding the situation from another’s psychological, social, spiritual, and physical perspectives.
There’s a third component to empathy, and that involves having an inner motivation that moves you to express the urge to care and respond to another’s well-being. These concerns will vary significantly from individual to individual. Concerns also have different environmental factors influencing them.
Why is Empathy Important?
When you’re trying to answer the question, “why is empathy important,” think about all the aspects of your daily life. When you’re empathetic, you’re showing compassion for others. You’re also relating to co-workers, friends, loved ones, and strangers.
It’s painful watching someone suffer. We may absorb that individual’s sorrow or feel their pain. We also may feel sorry because we’re not sure what to say or do. When experiencing these uncomfortable feelings, it may be natural to want to turn away from what’s distressful. That way, you’re preserving your well-being and can carry on with your life.
However, this is the wrong way of approaching these situations. It’s critical to our daily lives to have an empathetic connection with others. That way, you’re caring about their well-being, feeing what they feel, and acting with compassion. These feelings help us get along with each other, work efficiently, and thrive. Empathy impacts a person’s well-being, especially if they’re seeing a doctor.
Some doctors believe they can turn off their feelings and create an emotional distance. They do this because they believe those actions will help with objectivity and providing optimal care. However, when doctors act in this way, patients feel distressed. These patients are disgruntled, distrustful, and lack of cooperation. As a result, physicians experience burn-out and are less effective.
That’s why when analyzing the question, why is empathy important, it helps improve healthcare and other human interactions. Helen Reiss, the author of The Empathy Effect, writes, “All parties are equally enriched when we perceive and respond to each other with empathy and compassion. After all, it’s the human bond that adds the music to the words in life.”
Empathy and an Individual’s Personal Life
The importance of empathy has a substantial impact on an individual’s personal life. When you’re developing healthy relationships, that involves caring, nurturing, and understanding. Relationships, no matter if they’re a friendship or one that’s romantic, will flounder when there’s a lack of empathy. Other people in relationships suffer when individuals are thinking only of their interests.
Marital issues will also occur if one of the spouses fails to see things from the perspective of the other. Two people can’t have the same thoughts. Therefore, everyone will have different experiences. People in relationships bring their life experiences, ideas, and struggles. These people may feel uncared for or unloved if others aren’t taking the time to relate to their perspectives or feelings.
Empathy and Work-Life Importance
Many may not realize the importance of empathy in the workplace. Typically, employees view their workplace as where teamwork occurs. If you take part in a group project or something involving collaboration, relating to your co-workers is critical. Even if you’re all working on separate projects, co-workers need to get along. Developing smooth working relationships involves empathy.
Members of the management team must also use empathy. Otherwise, if you’re a boss who lacks empathy, you’re more likely to expose your workers to unfair practices. Managers lacking empathy may push their staff to work beyond what is reasonable and healthy. They may also be unduly harsh each time one of their employees makes a mistake.
When understanding the question, “why is empathy important,” you must also consider the worldwide impact. It’s infinitely crucial for those who practice empathy to do so from a global perspective. That way, those feelings can lead to compassion. When major disasters occur, this type of empathy will push individuals to drop everything and help. These individuals are willing to help strangers because they know, if the situation were in reverse, they would need that same help.
Counseling: Why is Empathy Important?
According to research by Macfarlane, “empathy is a multi-dimensional, interactional process that affects—and is affected by—the broader relationship between client and psychotherapist.” When therapists possess empathy, that helps clients feel more trust. There’s also a more significant level of understanding of the client by the therapist. That results in a substantial increase in feelings of security and happiness.
Even though empathy is beneficial to clients, there are also many benefits for the therapist as well. For example, general care practitioners experience a higher level of job satisfaction when expressing empathy to their patients. They also feel lower levels of burnout compared to those who aren’t empathizing.
It’s no mystery that general care practitioners differ from therapists. Therefore, it’s impossible to conclude that their experiences will apply to therapists. Because of their similarities, like the client-clinician relationship, for example, there’s a possibility that therapists practicing empathy will experience the same benefits.
How Empathy is Beneficial
According to Roman Krznaric, “98% of us have the ability to empathize wired into our brains, but we’re living far below our empathic potential.” If you can experience empathy, there is a broad range of benefits. Here are some examples:
Strong Emotional Connections
Having empathy allows you to build stronger social connections with other individuals. When you understand what people are feeling and thinking, you can have an appropriate response to social situations.
Those who can express empathy are more successful at regulating their emotions. When you can regulate your emotions, that also has many benefits. Those include managing your feelings, even when you’re experiencing high levels of distress, without it becoming overwhelming.
When you’re expressing empathy, that promotes behaviors involving helping. Each time you engage in cooperative behaviors whenever you’re empathizing with other people, your peers are more likely to help you when they empathize.
Is it Dangerous to Show Too Much Empathy?
Some who are empathetic naturally pour themselves–their heart and their soul–into situations others are experiencing. As a result, they feel as if those problems are theirs. It isn’t uncommon for those who are empathetic to respond to another individual’s feelings using non-reactive understanding. However, some can’t control these responses.
The result is their empathetic feelings are having an impact on their emotional well-being. For example, one minute, you’re feeling happy because you’re spending time with positive and energetic people. In the next moment, you may feel intense depression because you’re relating to another’s emotional experiences.
That’s where empathy disorder comes into play. Even though empathetic people believe they are positive and helpful, the disorder is still possible. The main reason is that too much of anything has unhealthy consequences. In other words, if someone’s experiences are ruling your mental state, you’re crossing a line.
If you’re losing control over your ability to take on or feel the pain of others, empathy becomes problematic. As a result, those empathetic feelings take a destructive and dark turn. Some refer to this issue as empathetic burnout.
Why Do People Lack Empathy?
Not everyone can empathize with what another person is experiencing. According to a study published April 2019 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, the leading researcher, C. Daryl Cameron, Ph.D., indicates, “we found that people primarily just don’t want to make the mental effort to feel empathy toward others, even when it involves feeling positive emotions.”
It may seem like empathy is something everyone possesses. However, that isn’t the case. At one time or another, you’ve met another individual who isn’t able to connect with others. They give you the impression that the problems of other individuals don’t matter. These individuals also act like they only care about themselves.
These are tell-tale signs of someone who lacks empathy. That doesn’t answer the question about why people act like this, though, and what makes them behave in this manner.
Those who lack empathy don’t have an interest in what’s happening in another individual’s life. They’re apathetic and distant when others express their problems. It isn’t uncommon for this behavior to be hurtful. Therefore, people who lack empathy have a more challenging time developing meaningful relationships.
Why Don’t Some People Have Empathy?
Sometimes, past experiences cause disconnections. In other words, those who have negative experiences in their past might cause those who have a lack of empathy to disconnect from the potential effect that other individuals have on them. Some view this tactic as a way of maintaining self-preservation. However, it does more harm than good. Reasons for this lack of empathy include:
These individuals may be victims of cognitive biases. The influence of many cognitive biases sometimes interferes with a person’s perception of the world around them. For instance, an individual may attribute another person’s failures to internal characteristics. While doing so, they may be blaming external factors for their shortcomings. These biases make it challenging for anyone to see the factors contributing to a situation. Therefore, they’re less likely to see experiences from another’s perspective.
Sometimes, individuals will dehumanize a victim. Others may have difficulty thinking that people who differ from them aren’t going to behave and feel the way they do. You’ll find this is especially true when individuals are experiencing physical distance. For example, individuals may be less likely to feel empathy if they see a news report about a disaster in a foreign country.
Sometimes, people make the mistake of blaming the victim for the circumstances when they’re suffering through a terrible experience. That’s why victims experience questioning regarding what they may have done differently for crime prevention. These tendencies occur when people need to believe that the world they’re living in is a decent place with justice.
There are differences between empathy and how it relates to compassion and sympathy. Compassion and sympathy involve passive or indirect connections. However, empathy is when an individual is genuinely attempting to understand another person.
People can experience a broad range of empathy types, including:
Affective or Emotional Empathy
When you’re using active empathy, that involves understanding another individual’s emotions and having an appropriate response. This emotional understanding might cause you to feel concern for another’s well-being. Or, this understanding may lead to stressful feelings.
Here’s a breakdown of emotional empathy:
- You’re sharing emotional experiences with others.
- You feel distressed when someone else if feeling pain; it’s a natural response.
- You have the willingness to help others.
When you’re able to understand another individual’s mental state and their thoughts regarding responding to the situation, that’s cognitive empathy. This description is one of those empathy types is when psychologists are referring to the theory of the mind. In other words, you’re thinking about the thoughts of others.
Cognitive empathy is a skill. Sometimes you’ll see this phrase as empathetic accuracy. That means you’re possessing the ability to figure out what others are thinking and how they’re feeling about a particular situation.
Here’s a breakdown of cognitive empathy:
- You’re thinking about things from another individual’s perspective.
- You can imagine what it’s like stepping into another’s shoes.
- You have an in-depth understanding of another individual’s feelings.
Otherwise referred to as “empathetic concern,” this type of empathy involves putting actions to the feelings you’re experiencing. You’re moving beyond that of understanding or relating to another’s situation. Instead, this understanding is pushing you to act.
Here’s a breakdown of compassionate empathy:
- You feel moved to help relieve another’s pain.
- You have an in-depth understanding of what others are feeling and why.
- You know how to respond differently to each situation.
- You’re good at reciprocity.
In this case, somatic empathy is talking about when you’re experiencing a physical reaction in response to another individual’s experience. Sometimes, people have a physical experience toward what others are feeling. For example, if you see someone experiencing embarrassment, your reaction might be to have an upset stomach or blush.
Here’s a breakdown of somatic empathy:
- It’s part of the CASES acronym—Cognitive, Affective, and Somatic Empathy Scale.
- You’re mirroring the sensations someone experiences with a physical reaction.
Is Empathy Innate or Taught?
It isn’t uncommon for people to believe that empathy is someone’s genetic predisposition. When you get down to it, though, you can increase and decrease your empathy skills. That’s why teaching empathy starts during childhood. When this occurs, children are learning about emotional intelligence. Developing empathy happens when we teach our children how to think about the way others are feeling.
As part of this teaching, ask your child a lot of questions. For example, if a child teases or hurts another child, ask them how they believe they made the other child feel. You can also ask the child how they would feel if they were receiving such treatment. Would it make them angry or sad if someone treated them poorly? It’s easy to teach children about empathy because they would like someone to treat them that way.
According to research published by a lecturer from the University of New South Wales, Christina Boedker, compassionate and empathetic leaders, “understand people’s motivations, hopes, and difficulties, and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be.”
What does this say about empathy being innate or if it needs an educational component? After compiling data from seventy-seven organizations, which included over 5,600 people, Boedker’s conclusion is straightforward. She believes that, when organizational leaders possess empathy and compassion, that leads to substantial improvements in productivity and profitability.
In other words, delegating responsibilities is not an organizational leader’s best quality. Instead, they should be learning how to be empathetic and compassionate. Because possessing empathy and compassion is so crucial, business leaders will likely fail unless they incorporate it into their daily practices. That way, members of management teams can help their employees feel more excited and comfortable with their jobs.
That’s where empathetic learning skills come into play. Even though there is research indicating that empathy does have genetic traits, that doesn’t mean we can’t teach this skill. How can leaders learn this skill? Here are some tips:
Actively Listen to All Employees
Each time a manager makes an effort to listen to their employees’ ideas and suggestions genuinely, they’ll start understanding the meaning of empathy. It’s crucial for management and other members of the leadership team to develop effective listening skills and seeing things from another’s point of view. Taking these steps will help with emotional connections.
Learn More About Employees
Getting to know employees on a personal level helps management teams understand them better. The more knowledge that managers obtain about each employee, the more emotional connections will occur. That means learning about their family and seeing each employee as a real person. Making this effort helps regarding caring for workers on another level.
Think About Other’s Perspectives
You’re practicing healthy emotions when you’re looking at things from a broad range of angles. Before having an opinion, think about all the sides of the argument you’re hearing. Before proceeding, think about the feelings of everyone. That way, you can do what’s best for more people.
Advance Your Education
When you advance your education, that helps you develop healthy responses and emotions. Other connections and experiences will help you learn more about understanding other people. As you continue through your education, the skills you learn will focus on better leadership and emotional intelligence.
Compassion vs Empathy
What’s your first instinct when seeing a homeless person on the street? One reaction is railing against the system’s injustice and moving on. Another response is buying them a meal or putting a donation in their cup.
When you experience genuine feelings regarding someone’s plight, that’s a sign of compassion. Typically, these feelings will compel individuals to act in ways that will ease another’s struggle. That’s because it’s too difficult to watch someone else struggling.
Some people use compassion and empathy interchangeably. However, in doing so, a disservice is happening to both of these words.
Empathy is when you’re putting yourself in someone else’s position, experiences, or feelings. However, when you have compassion for someone else, you feel the drive to act. Even though these words have definitions that relate to each other, there are still differences.
What Does it Mean to Be Empathetic?
Those who are empathetic are emotional sponges to the environment surrounding them. They experience the feelings of everyone around them, no matter if it’s a human or animal. That’s one way of defining empathy.
It isn’t uncommon for the definition of empathy to get confused with other traits, including sympathy and compassion. However, there’s a difference here as well. Sympathetic people offer comfort and understanding from the outside. Empathetic people are unable to view things from the outside because they’re experiencing what people are feeling.
The Definition of Compassion
If you’re an empathetic person who is putting themselves in someone else’s shows, what does it mean to compassionate? When looking at the definition of compassion, it means “co-suffering” in Latin. These feelings occur when you’re seeing another individual suffering.
It isn’t uncommon for those who are compassionate to possess other positive traits, including kindness, understanding, and generosity. Those who feel compassion believe they must make positive changes in the world around them. While compassion is a positive trait, it isn’t something an individual is born with because it’s a habit-forming and conscious behavior.
Understanding the Differences between Compassion and Empathy
One of the most substantial differences when looking at compassion vs empathy is the action component. Both of these traits include strong feelings that can improve an individual’s well-being and happiness. However, you’re taking things a step further with compassion.
Remember, empathy includes feeling things internally, and compassion involves moving outward. When you possess empathetic feelings, you’re allowing yourself to feel what others are feeling. For example, an empathetic person seeing someone crying feels their pain. A compassionate person sees that and offers a comforting hug.
It’s possible to feel compassion and empathy at the same time. Let’s go back to the example of seeing a person living on the street. You may have past experiences with that same situation, and seeing it has a profound impact on you. This situation may bring you to tears when seeing someone going through that.
Those who are empathetic will feel others’ feelings on an intense level. In doing so, they’re taking on those feelings themselves. Experiencing those empathetic feelings, though, can also turn into compassion when you act on them. Put that empathy into action by giving that person a blanket or buying them food.
Questioning why empathy is important is your first step toward feeling what others are feeling and putting yourself in their shoes. Many wonder if empathy is innate or if they need to learn about this trait. Others confuse the difference between compassion vs empathy. While learning about both of these things, if it’s a trait and the difference between compassion and empathy, you must also be aware of how empathy impacts your daily life.