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Empathy: The power of connecting hearts in a disconnected world

Word “empathy” has been derived from ancient Greek word “empatheia”- meaning physical affection or passion. Empathy has bee a broad concept ranges from understanding the emotional state of other people to having desire to help them when in need.

Dr. Damanjit Kaur (MD Psychiatry)

Empathy involves understanding the emotional state of a person not only in context to their desires or belief but also understanding the bodily feelings of the other person(gestures) as well. Essentially, it is the ability of putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they are actually feeling.

What is the difference between empathy, sympathy, pity and compassion?

Sympathy is feeling of care and understanding for someone in need. While, a person feels compassion when they notice others are in need and this feeling motivates that person to help. Both sympathy and compassion combined to make a person feels empathetic. Feeling pity for someone means feeling sorry for someone but not thinking beyond this.

Types of empathy:

Affective empathy/emotional empathy: it is the ability to respond with an appropriate emotion to another’s mental state. It can be divided into 2:
  • Empathetic concern i.e., sympathy for others in response to their suffering.

  • Personal distress i.e., feeling of discomfort and anxiety to another’s suffering.

Cognitive empathy: is the ability to understand another’s mental state. Some subtypes are:
  • Fantasy i.e., tendency to identify with fictional characters.

  • Perspective taking i.e., tendency to spontaneously adopt other psychological perspectives.

  • Tactical i.e., use of perspective taking to achieve desirable ends.

Somatic empathy: it is the ability to feel what another person is feeling.

Other miscellaneous types can be behavioral empathy, ecological empathy, social empathy.

What are the uses of being empathetic?

·         It allows you to build social connections with others. They have more positive relationships with others.

  • It also helps you to learn to regulate your own emotions.

  • It helps you to engage in helping behavior.

  • Children who exhibit more empathy also have more resilience.

  • It helps in diffusing conflict by having understanding of someone else’s perspective, it easier to move on to proposing resolution of a conflict.

What are the pitfalls of being too empathetic?

Having been empathetic may be good for the well being and happiness of others but sometimes it may lead to feel overwhelmed, burnt out or overstimulated from always thinking about other people’s is known as empathy distress fatigue and commonly seen in healthcare workers and in care givers.

Empathy can asl be exploited by sympathetic beggars in the form of donations given in begging leading to misuse of it as a business.

Too much empathy in parents might create long term problems for their children by neglecting discipline as seen in helicopter parenting, e.g., children not getting vaccinated because of short term discomfort.

Why do some people lack empathy?

Cognitive biases

For e.g., people often attribute other people’s failures to their internal characteristics while blaming their own shortcomings on external factors. These type of biases makes it difficult to see all the factors that contribute to a situation. Pre-conceived notion is also an example of cognitive bias.


It means we think other people are different from us, so it is happening to them because they are prone to it because of their circumstances. This happens when people are physically distant. For e.g., any natural disaster happening in other country, we less likely to feel empathy with them by thinking that it will not happen to us.

Victim blaming: 

We usually held the person (who is suffering from terrible experience) responsible for his/her situation. This stems from the belief that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get.

What are the tips for practicing empathy?

  • Work on listening to people without interrupting.

  • Pay attention to body language.

  • Ask people questions to learns more about them and their lives.

  • Strengthen your connection with others to learn more about how they feel.

  • Seek to identify biases you may have and how they affect your empathy for others.

  • Imagine yourself in another person’s shoes.

  • Engage in new experiences gives you better insight into how others in that situation may feel.

  • Thus, cultivating empathy involves active listening, open-mindedness, and a willingness to embrace diverse perspectives. It is a skill that can be honed and developed, contributing not only to individual well-being but also to the betterment of society as a whole. In a world where understanding and compassion are increasingly important, empathy stands as a guiding light, fostering a more empathetic and interconnected global community.

Dr. Damanjit Kaur (MD Psychiatry)

Faith Hospital, Chandigarh

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