At its simplest, empathy is the intimate awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, it is a necessary component of emotional intelligence. It has been observed that empathy facilitates prosocial behavior that come from within rather than being forced upon so that we all behave in a more compassionate way.

Difference between empathy and sympathy

We have to keep in mind that empathy goes far beyond sympathy. Sympathy is ‘feeling for’ someone whereas empathy is ‘feeling with’ that person through the use of imagination. Psychologists have identified three types of empathy:

  • cognitive
  • emotional
  • compassionate

Cognitive empathy is understanding someone’s thoughts and emotions, in a very rational, rather than emotional sense. It is also sometimes called ‘perspective-taking’. It helps in better understanding where someone is coming from.

Emotional empathy is also known as emotional contagion, and is ‘catching’ someone else’s feelings, so that you literally feel them too.

Compassionate empathy is understanding someone’s feelings, and taking appropriate action to help. Being empathic allows us to build social connections with others. It also helps us to regulate our emotions. Most importantly, empathy promotes helping right behaviours.

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