The Art of Understanding Emotions: Empathy

November 18, 2016

We could define empathy as the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, to understand their vision of reality, their stance, and their opinions, free of all prejudice.

Empathy can not only help others, but also ourselves.

“The ability to put yourself in another person’s place is one of the most important functions of intelligence. It shows a person’s level of maturity.”

-A. Cury-

What is empathy and what is it good for?

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to try to understand what is going through their mind, how and why they feel this way. Not from our own perspective, but rather trying to think like the other person thinks, with their beliefs, their values…

Empathy starts with validation, with understanding that the feelings of another person are real and valid, even if we would have had others in the same situation.

To put this into simpler words and by means of an example, for us, it may not be very important that we do not have siblings, but for another person, it may very well be. In this situation, the empathetic person would move away from his “scale of importance” to understand the suffering of the other person from their “scale of importance.”

hand holding hearts

The degree of empathy

There are people who have a natural skill to do what we have described above, but there are others who are incapable of doing it. However, be careful!

Sometimes we confuse empathy with another concept that is a fundamental part of producing empathy. We are talking about the recognition of emotions.

We are referring to recognizing sadness, joy, fear, anger. There are people who are capable of quickly identifying the emotional state that another person is in and there are others who cannot manage to identify it even when they are a bit exaggerated, despite it being written on their foreheads.

Logically, in this previous step to the cognitive part of empathy, there are many variables that play a role. The familiarity that we have with the person who is experiencing the emotion, our degree of exhaustion, their communicational predisposition, etc.

Empathy has many positive features. It facilitates communication, consolation, problem resolution, etc. But it also has another extreme, the negative.

Constantly living in the shoes of everyone else on earth can lead to us creating an emotional disconnection from ourselves that can cost us dearly in the end.

So it is good to practice putting ourselves in the shoes of other people, but without forgetting that this is another person and without permanently remaining there. The first people we have to take care of are ourselves.

Examples of empathy

We may be very empathetic people, but if we do no show it, if we do not put it into practice, it is not good for anything. That said, we are going to list some examples.

  • When we know how to listen to and understand the other person’s feelings without being so hung up on our own and our own words.
  • When we not only use our words to console. Additionally, a hug, a pat on the shoulder, a kiss, or a simple touch can make us more empathetic.
  • When we are with someone who has a problem and we help them with our sense of humor, for instance.
  • When we express ourselves carefully and with courtesy to the other person.
  • When we do not show signs of boredom, irritation, or exhaustion towards what the other person is telling us.
  • When we do not make a comment or a joke that we know is going to bother the other person.
  • When we let an older person or a child, for instance, know that we understand them, that we get what they are saying.
  • When we help solve problems and we are capable of calming others down.
Couple at Sunset

Examples of a lack of empathy

On the other hand, there are also times and situations when we do not show empathy.

  • When we believe that our problems are the only ones in the world.
  • When we do not listen to others.
  • When we just and make hurtful comments.
  • When we never offer a smile, a friendly gesture, or any pleasant contact to others.
  • When any time we do something for others, we expect something in exchange.

Empathy is a good skill to practice, as it allows us to understand others, but we have to be careful not to practice it in excess so that we do not disconnect from ourselves.