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types of empathy - a learnable skill or inborn talent?
Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2016 5:30 PM
Joined: 9/12/2013
Posts: 3608

  • Emotional Empathy can be both Good and Bad

  • Emotional empathy is good because it means that we can readily understand and feel other people’s emotions. This is vital for those in caring professions, such as doctors and nurses, to be able to respond to their patients appropriately. It also means that we can respond to friends and others when they are distressed.

  • Emotional empathy is bad, because it is possible to become overwhelmed by those emotions, and therefore unable to respond. This is known asempathy overload, and is explained in more detail in our page on Understanding Others. Those with a tendency to become overwhelmed need to work on their self-regulation, and particularly their self-control, so that they become better able to manage their own emotions.

Good self-control helps doctors and nurses to avoid possible burnout from empathising too much. There is a danger, however, that they can become ‘hardened’ and not respond appropriately. There have been several recent cases in the UK, such as in South Staffordshire, where nurses and others were accused of being uncaring. This may have been a possible result of over-protection against empathy overload.

Compassionate Empathy

Finally, compassionate empathy is what we usually understand by empathy: feeling someone’s pain, and taking action to help.

The name, compassionate empathy, is consistent with what we usually understand by compassion. Like sympathy, compassion is about feeling concern for someone, but with an additional move towards action to mitigate the problem.

Compassionate empathy is the type of empathy that is usually most appropriate.

As a general rule, people who want or need your empathy don’t just need you to understand (cognitive empathy), and they certainly don’t need you just to feel their pain or, worse, to burst into tears alongside them (emotional empathy).

Instead, they need you to understand and sympathise with what they are going through and, crucially, either take, or help them to take, action to resolve the problem, which is compassionate empathy.

Finding the Balance

Cognitive empathy can often be considered under-emotional.

It involves insufficient feeling, and therefore perhaps too much logical analysis. It may be perceived as an unsympathetic response by those in distress.

Emotional empathy, by contrast, is over-emotional.

Too much emotion or feeling can be unhelpful. As our page on Managing Emotions explains, emotions are very primitive. Feeling strong emotions, especially distress, takes us back to childhood. More or less by definition, that makes us less able to cope, and certainly less able to think and apply reason to the situation. It is very hard to help anyone else if you are overcome by your own emotions.

In exercising compassionate empathy, we can find the right balance between logic and emotion.

We can feel another person’s pain, as if it was happening to us, and therefore express the appropriate amount of sympathy.

At the same time, we can also remain in control of our own emotions, and apply reason to the situation.

This means that we can make better decisions and provide appropriate support to them when and where it is necessary.

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Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2016 7:18 PM
Joined: 7/24/2015
Posts: 3020

NPD...or Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the literal inability to understand other peop have emotions...or have emotions diff than theirs.  Indeed, if you show them situation cards...they will no know what pers in them be feeling.  An, if you show them facial cards of emotional expressions, they will no be able know they emotions. 

It be caused by eith unemotional CG or failure bond CG in infancy (think monkey pic wire moms).

I find this intriguing. 

So yes, it be eve one get other peop have diff experiences emotions than them.

It might explain why some CGs think onl their experience matters...or that our experiences need always match theirs.

I find what you post, linked some how like wiring...when we see some one take an action (like lift some thing, drink), in our head be fire same neurons as though we made action.  This part well preserved in Alzheimer's.  Why when some one make action sit, while tell us sit...we able do...but when they onl tell us sit we have take time sort out what we suppose do. 

I think this be import develop in earl childhood.  So you be right, peop be at varying degrees this. 

In line with these may be thoughts on projection. 

You one smart pers your brain. 


Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2016 10:51 PM
Joined: 5/20/2014
Posts: 4408


Working in the helping fields (medical, psych, EMT etc.) can be a set up for Compassion Fatigue where persons taking care of others and seeing so much suffering can burn out and get ill themselves. Compassion fatigue is also known as STS (secondary traumatic stress). 

 I'm very interested in learning how others can be taught empathy because there are also some cold heartless persons working in the helping fields who need training. Perhaps they only have the capacity for cognitive empathy. Then there are others like Mother Teresa where empathy is inbred and  ingrained in the fabric of their personality.