Empathy Definition. What does Empathy mean?


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Have you ever heard someone talk about a hard time in their lives and thought, “Wow, I really know exactly what you are talking about”? Or, have you spoken to someone about a problem you are having, and felt a lot better afterwards? It is likely that you experienced empathy – in yourself or from other people.

As human beings, one of the best feelings we can have is to be accepted and understood by others. In other words, to connect with other people through our emotions.

Meaning of Empathy

Empathy is a noun that refers to the ability to understand and feel what someone else is feeling, or see the situation from their point of view. The specific emotion that someone who is feeling empathetic feels varies depending on the situation.

If they are talking to someone who has just survived a life-threatening event, they may feel the relief and appreciation that another person feels. If the other person has just lost a loved one, they may feel sadness and hopelessness.

Feelings of empathy are typically associated with negative situations, when it is helpful to have someone to support you. These include grief, anxiety, heartbreak, or suffering.

On the other hand, you can also be empathetic to someone who is ecstatic, or extremely happy about something. However, feeling these positive emotions is usually much rarer than sharing the negative emotions.

Examples of Empathy in a Sentence

  • One of the most important interpersonal skills that someone can have is empathy, because it can help you connect with that person very easily.
  • I would much rather work for someone who has empathy when I explain to them something that has gone wrong in my life or work, than to receive higher pay to work with someone who does not feel much emotion at all.

Dialogue with Empathy

Jerry: I have no idea why, but that new guy Victor gives me the creeps. I feel so uncomfortable around him at all times!

Marvin: I know what you mean. I definitely feel the same way. I wonder what it is about him that gives off that vibe?

Jerry: You know, it might be his lack of empathy. When Nestor was talking about his broken heart after his breakup with Maggie, Victor just had a grin on his face.

Marvin: Now that you point it out, that actually makes a lot of sense! Wow, I had not thought of it way before, but that might have been the first time I thought Victor was a little off.

Jerry: Yeah, I recently read news story on a study that said people who lack empathy tend to be rejected from social groups. This makes sense when I think about Victor.

Marvin: Good point. Maybe he’s not so bad, he just doesn’t feel the same emotions we do.

Other words you can create from Empathy

Empathetic

The adjective form of empathy, an action from somebody who understands your emotions is empathetic.

  • My mother’s empathetic reassurances helped me recover quickly after I failed a test that I spent a lot of time studying for.
  • Grace’s favorite teacher was so popular because he was very empathetic, and gave great advice to students who met any problems.

Empathetically

The adverb form of empathy, how someone would act if they understand your situation and emotions.

  • The police knew that they had to approach the bank robber empathetically, or he might harm the hostages that he kept with him.
  • When Jack tried to empathetically pat Jill on the shoulder after she found out her cancer diagnosis from the doctor, she just broke down in tears.

Collocations with Empathy

Empathize with

The verb form of empathy, which always includes “with” at the end if you are talking about two people understanding each other’s emotions.

  • Max was able to empathize with Dylan when he complained about all the extra hours he had to put in at work now that the company wanted to produce a new product.
  • While Terry could empathize with the struggles of the lower class – not having jobs, for example – he could not understand why violence and discrimination of others was the answer.

Deep empathy

If you fully understand what someone is going through, you feel deep empathy with them.

  • The deep empathy that Jack showed when he comforted his mother surprised her.
  • The customer service representative who showed deep empathy with every customer she helped became exhausted quickly.

Real empathy

While some emotions can be faked, so the people does not really feel what it looks like they feel, real empathy is not fake. The person who feels real empathy honestly tries to understand the other person.

  • From the real empathy that he displayed upon hearing the news, it was clear that Gary really cared about the situation.
  • It was hard to tell the difference between fake and real empathy because Trevor was such a great actor.

Total empathy

If someone feels total empathy, it is like they are going through the challenge themselves. They completely understand what happens, and can often be a great comfort for the person going through the challenge.

  • Bree’s total empathy towards the situation was a blessing to Valerie, who was able to take time off work to solve her problem.
  • Yuan was confused by his total empathy with Pat’s struggles.

A feeling of empathy

When talking about the emotion, the phrase “a feeling of” emphasizes the noun.

  • A feeling of empathy can overtake someone if they are not used to understanding others.
  • The best emotional support you can receive from your friends is a feeling of empathy.

A lack of empathy

If someone does not care about the situation at all, they have a lack of empathy.

  • Many psychopaths and sociopaths have a complete lack of empathy.
  • When Wilson tried to take time off to accompany his wife to the hospital, his boss responded with a lack of empathy and rejected his request.

Related phrasal verbs

Feel empathy

To feel empathy is the most common way to express the presence of the feeling.

  • The purpose of an emotional advertisement for the viewer to feel empathy.
  • Luna feels empathy when she hears bad news on the TV, so she tries not to watch news programs unless there is a good reason for it.

Demonstrate empathy

To demonstrate empathy to someone or something means to show them that you understand them.

  • The news reporter demonstrated uncharacteristic empathy when interviewing families of the victims of a school shooting.
  • Even though she often felt it, Kelly was not always able to demonstrate empathy.

Evoke empathy

To evoke empathy means to make other people feel the feeling. This is usually used to describe someone that brings out the understanding and sympathy in other people.

  • The nonprofit agency hired someone who could make their TV ad evoke empathy in even the most steady, unemotional viewers.
  • The politician won votes from people because she could evoke empathy in them, and make them feel like she was one of them.

Synonyms for Empathy

1. Compassion

Compassion is the emotion that comes about when you see someone who is in need. It makes you want to help them or provide support to them in any way possible.

  • Bill and Melinda Gates have admirable compassion for the poor, as they will be donating almost all of their wealth to these humanitarian projects during their lifetimes.
  • Nancy’s compassion motivated her to help the old lady carry her groceries to her apartment; the grandma was so touched she invited Nancy in for dinner.

2. Sympathy

Similar to both empathy and compassion, sympathy is the ability to feel bad for someone who has been wronged or who is in a bad situation.

  • Some people make up sad sob stories so that they will gain sympathy from other people.
  • Trevor felt a lot of sympathy for Cathy, so he allowed her to stay at his house while she solved her problem.

3. Pity

Similar to sympathy, pity is the emotion of feeling sorry for someone. If you see that someone is in a bad situation, you could feel bad for them.

However, the difference between pity and other emotions is that there is little motivation to help the person when you feel pity. The exception is doing something out of pity, but generally people hate having to rely solely on other people.

  • Tina hated telling other people that she grew up an orphan because they usually responded with a look of pity, and she did not like that at all.
  • Kevin gave money to homeless people begging on the streets out of pity, but it did not make him feel good.

4. Emotional contagion

The way that emotions can spread through a group of people is emotional contagion. This includes negative emotions like sadness, neutral feelings like empathy, or great emotions like joy.

  • One of the most interesting aspects of religion is emotional contagion – people worshipping together can create great feelings of loyalty.
  • Sadness can have great emotional contagion, so people who cry and are depressed often make the people around them sad and depressed.

5. EQ (emotional intelligence quotient)

Similar to IQ, or someone’s intelligence quotient, EQ measures someone’s ability. This measurement is the ability to empathize with others, or connect with them emotionally.

  • Someone who has a high EQ tends to be liked by many people, and can get promoted at work at a higher rate than people who have low EQ.
  • Nowadays, more and more companies and schools value someone’s EQ more than they value that person’s experience or other qualifications.

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