Empathy and sympathy are both concepts associated with feeling and understanding other people which are oftentimes interchanged and misused (Coulehan & Block, 1999; Eisenberg & Strayer, 1987; cited in Mathiasen, 2006). As opposed to sympathy, which pertains to a state wherein one is affected by another person’s condition causing the former to feel emotions similar to the latter’s (Mathiasen, 2006), empathy can be explained as the feeling of understanding a person’s feeling and situations and showing it through expressions of care and concern (Association of American Medical Colleges cited in Hojat, et al.
, 2002). This implies that one can be considered to be empathizing with another if the former accurately understands what the latter is going through and demonstrates that understanding. Empathy is also said to provoke and trigger altruism, as being considerate about a person deeply shall lead him or her to selflessly help and understand the aggrieved person. This relationship between empathy and altruism has been observed to be inevitable since increased concern was found to increase one’s willingness to help and make an aggrieved person feel better as well (Van Lange, 2008).
Thus, it appears that in some situations, selfless giving and helping may be a result of a an individual’s thorough understanding of another person’s situation, as opposed to helping without even knowing any background about what a person goes through. However, while empathy has been associated with selflessness, it does not appear to have any relation to self-centeredness or justice (Van Lange, 2008).
In some instances, justice in court rooms may be affected by the judge’s understanding of the aggrieved and the criminal’s situation, but generally, there was not a research proof which strengthens the claim that empathy can alter and manipulate justice and decisions about justice.
As a universal emotion, empathy can be experienced by anyone at any given time. However, considering people’s perception of empathy today, will that perception be the same as how people from the earlier times perceived empathy? Historical Background
Empathy has long been involved in various social interactions. Everywhere, people communicate and relate with each other; hence, empathy can just happen and connect two people. Thus, it was believed that as long as there is understanding and consideration of a person’s feelings such as grief, sadness, pain, and suffering, empathy would most likely to take place. As long as two people exchange thoughts and feeling to each other, a connection would certainly be established, and eventually, understanding would take place and provoke empathy.
This acceptance of the idea of empathy was commonplace in the earlier times when people were inclined value interpersonal communication more where empathy was most likely to happen (Bierhoff & Rohmann, 2004). However, looking at the concept of empathy today, it appears that the attitude of people towards the idea of empathy today differs from the attitude of the elder generations. In one way or another, over the generations, the experience and attitude towards empathy has been observed to get lesser (Diehl, Gruthn, Rebucal, Labouvie-Vief & Lumley, 2008).
This shows that contrary to the current generation, the elders have greater experience in empathizing and being empathized with. Also, this implies that elders are more likely to have a positive attitude towards empathy than the younger generation. In relation to this, several psychological and sociological studies were conducted regarding the experiences and attitudes in empathy among different generations.
Most of these studies found that as more people perceive that they empathize well with others, they also tend to feel and perceive that they have more meaningful and sensible conversations, relations, and interactions compared to others who do not usually empathize with other people (Diehl, Gruthn, Rebucal, Labouvie-Vief & Lumley, 2008). Because of this, it may seem that in one way or another, more effective interpersonal communication is associated with empathizing. Interesting Facts about Empathy Aside from being a widely used emotional term, empathy is also an extensive interactive process.
In most close relations like mother and child, brother and sister, and husbands and wife, empathy has been observed to be an integral factor which establishes a stronger bond and more harmonious communication practices. Since empathy involves understanding the feeling and thoughts of another person, between close relationships, this practice may appear helpful and important in becoming more supportive and considerate to each other’s ideas and sentiments (Buysse, Davis, Devoldre, Ickes & Verhofsdadt, 2008).
In the process of empathizing, mind-reading and analysis of one’s thoughts may become necessary (Thomas & Maio, 2008), but the real purpose of empathizing is not just to know what is on another person’s mind and emotions, but rather, to understand it. Hence, in many ways, empathizing serves helpful functions in relationships. Ideally, relationships must possess a desirable level of understanding in order to preserve a harmonious dealing and communication. In addition, relationships always work well when each party tries to gauge and recognize the other’s thoughts and grievances. These can all become possible when empathizing is practiced.
Thus, considering these facts, it can be inferred that empathizing greatly contributes in strengthening and stabilizing relationships. On the other hand, the lack of empathic practices was seen to possess some drawbacks. People who tend to communicate less and experience almost no empathy at all were observed by medical research to be directly associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (Clark, McIntosh, Winkielman, 2008). This relation was explained to be caused by the similarity in rapid emotional processing qualities of people with ASD which can be observed in people who just choose not to empathize much.
These findings suggest and establishes the fact that empathy, aside from being a usual emotional practice, serves various positive effects in building stronger and more stable relationships and maintaining a positive well-being. Conclusion Based on the aforementioned facts and research results, it can be gleaned that empathy is more than just a universal emotional support that people exhibit especially in times of grief, pain, and suffering. Expressing and experiencing empathy more often do not only aid a person in understanding other people well but also help to establish stronger and more stable relationships with them.
Moreover, as relationships depend heavily on communication and understanding, it appears that empathy significantly contributes in making each party in a relationship become more considerate about each other’s thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, as the abovementioned studies suggest, empathizing also helps in promoting and creating more positive and pleasant well-being among people. However, while frequent experience of empathy and empathizing causes positive effects to the self and to relationships with others, less experience on empathy and empathizing was found to cause difficulties or be a relevant factor of behavioral disorders like ASD.
Considering this, empathizing, as an act of emotional support, tends to be beneficial in a lot of ways. Also, neglecting this concept may as well cause undesirable behavioral dilemmas in the future. Thus, as a social process, empathy appears to be a good focus and subject of studies and research as more and more people in this generation seem to underestimate it compared to the earlier generations. Empathy is not just an emotional word, and neither is it a mere expression of affection or care. It is a universal process and action which was proven to build stronger relations as well as a stronger and more stable self.