What is Empathy?

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Empathy basically means deeply understanding the feelings of another person. Unlike sympathy which means feeling sorry for the person, but maintaining distance, empathy is more of feeling with the person.
This word is the English translation of the German word Einfühlung, which means to feel as one with. This means that when a person empathizes, that person is walking in the other person’s shoes and shares the load. By doing this, the person who empathizes understands the other person’s perspective more clearly.

For instance, therapy is performed better when the therapist displays empathy towards the patient. Instead of maintaining distance and just being sympathetic, the therapist must listen with empathy in order to understand the patient’s suffering. However, therapists should also prevent themselves from being too entangled with the emotional condition of their patient.

The primary reason why group therapies yield positive results is that people with the same personal issue are more likely to show empathy towards each other. For example, a person with alcohol problems finds it easy to understand other people who struggle with the same condition and provide support.

It is also better to show empathy for people who have just experienced a loss or a tragic event, rather than show sympathy. Although sympathy is shown with good intentions, it often gives the notion to the person who is suffering that he is alone. A person who is grieving or suffering wants understanding and not pity. By empathizing with the grieving person, he/she will be able to restore his/her perspective.

In the field of literature, catharsis is achieved by the readers by empathizing with a character. Literature, film, and other artistic forms may also be beneficial for the psychological aspect of a person. When a character is developed well and the person can relate to the experiences, emotions, and thoughts of that character, the resolutions that the character performed will give the person an idea on how to approach his own problem.

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