Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors.
Steve Taylor, PhD. and author of Out of the Darkness shares this description:
C and violent behavior - in fact, everything that we associate with “evil.” A lack of Empathy with victims makes crimepossible. A lack of Empathy with other human groups makes warfare possible. A lack of Empathy enables psychopaths to treat other human beings callously, as objects who have no value except as a means of satisfying their desires.
Dr. Taylor categorizes two types of Empathy:
“The first is what might be called “Shallow Empathy.” This is the most common definition of Empathy, as the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”. This type of Empathy is a cognitive ability, like imagining future scenarios or solving problems based on previous experience. Psychologist Paul Gilbert points out that Empathy in this sense doesn’t necessarily imply "goodness." In fact, Empathy is what makes torture possible. Without Empathy, a torturer would have no concept of the suffering he is causing. Because he can “put himself in another person’s shoes” he knows that he is causing pain.
The second type of Empathy is what I call “Deep Empathy.” This is the ability not just to imagine but to feel what other people are experiencing. Your identity merges with theirs. The separateness between you and them fades away and you become them. It becomes impossible to inflict pain or suffering on other people intentionally. You are reluctant to harm them in the same way that you are reluctant to harm yourself. One of the interesting things about these two types of Empathy is that they are not necessarily related.”
This quarter, I have been sharing ideas for growing emotional intelligence. All you have to do is practice. Practicing self-awareness and self-regulation seems simpler to me than practicing Empathy. In this newsletter, you and I will look at how Empathy bridges interpersonal and intrapersonal behaviors. Most importantly, self-awareness and regulation are intrapersonal capacities, meaning you are focusing on you. Empathy on the other hand is an interpersonal capacity where you focus on others. This creates a paradox requiring you at yourself in order to look at, even if you don’t realize you are doing it.