Empathy is an essential quality that allows  to be kind to other people and the surrounding world in general. As a rule, empathetic individuals are  ready to help, support, and sacrifice their wealth and time for those who need it. How to measure empathy accurately? What is the best way to communicate with someone who lacks empathy?

These questions need in-depth understanding of this psychological phenomenon.

What is empathy?

Following a definition, it is a conscious understanding of the inner world or the emotional state of another person, animal, or even the surrounding world. A distinctive feature is that this property applies to a wide range of emotions regardless of their positive or negative nature. For example, if compassion is precisely the ability to show pity, then empathy is more multifaceted. 

The character of its manifestation also differs from a straightforward response to a deep immersion in another person’s sensual world. The mechanism is not fully understood. However, there is a scientific assumption that the so-called mirror neurons are responsible for its occurrence. 

We can say that empathy is a necessary professional quality of practical psychologists and psychotherapists. However, it can be met in some ordinary people as well. It may be developed. Are you interested in how to teach your teenager empathy? – Well, no problems. By your own example, of course! Develop this feature in yourself, and in a short period, you will be amazed to see that your child is changing as well. 

All in all, this peculiar feature of character usually contributes much to increased productivity, development of competence in communication, and ensures the creation of more profound and more personal relationships.

Do we need empathy? What is the opposite of empathy?

It seems, any person may answer that the opposite of empathy is indifference or a so-called cold shoulder. Unfortunately, in the contemporary world, these last two features are much more popular than the first. It means that empathy is necessary for everybody around us as it can make this world better and bring more positive emotions into it. 

Following the professional point of view, there are two sides to empathy. On the one hand, with its help, you can tell the person that you are not indifferent to him or her, thereby giving the required support. On the other hand, you reinforce the real frustration and negative emotions. The person may be accustomed to problem behavior. As you see, the roots of empathy are much more profound than they may seem. 

Unfortunately, the refusal is often taken as a conflict generator. The upset person, who has not received your support, feels the moral right to put forward counter-accusations of indifference.

Is it possible to develop empathy?

The ability to experience emotions is one of the most critical skills in our psyche. At a particular stage of development, our emotions help us survive.  All in all, they are our primary strategy for survival in infancy. Indeed, only with the help of emotions, expressing dissatisfaction or satisfaction, the baby can signal the mother about his or her needs.

The specialists have already discovered that each of us has a different level of empathy because we all feel differently. Obviously, the more we can understand our feelings, the easier it is for us to understand others’ feelings. That is probably why both of these skills develop almost simultaneously. The level to which we grow emotionally depends primarily on ourselves. But no less important is the way we were raised in childhood.

Empathy can be developed even in the adult age. However, it is not easy, of course. Following the reputable psychologists, it can be even impossible if there is no background for this feeling. The background, in its turn, is laid in childhood. 

Right time and wrong time empathy

Everybody needs care, attention, and support. Having a mild nature, sometimes we do not even know how to control empathy, as we are ready to share it. The surrounding world can be rough, and from time to time, we painfully need close people to make it brighter and fill with positive emotions again.  However, how to understand when we need someone’s empathy and when we should cope with the situation with our own experience?

Empathy is mostly needed when a person is not in the resource, upset, or when many things hurt him or her. At the same moment, empathy is not always good. Unfortunately, there are cases when a person abuses your empathy instead of gaining strength. He or she goes even more into the victim’s position, expecting that you will do everything. It is the wrong time or inappropriate empathy. Feelings that burn the supporter out  do not help the suffering.

Empathy is a good thing, but it has to be smart. Following the specialists, compassion given at the wrong time does not help but reinforces victim’s position. Lack of empathy can switch a person to new and more adequate behavior. Perhaps, this position may seem tough at first sight, but it can be helpful as well.

What are the benefits of empathy?

By supporting the people in severe living conditions, we give them a chance to improve the situation, start living better, and give the feeling that they are not alone. Moreover, positive behavior is always rewarded. We always become happier by making the surrounding world better.

Remember, kind people usually meet kind ones and vice versa.

Anton Kurapov

Anton Kurapov

PhD, a professor assistant at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Fascinated by the role of psychology in lives of people and simply astonished by the complexity of the brain and its functions.

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