Different Kinds of Empathy

 Two Minds graphic

In the latest Embodied Practices group we started exploring the distinctions between compassion, self-compassion, and empathy.  Where are they the same?  Where are they different?   Here’s a start to the conversation exploring the differences Daniel Goldman makes.  His three categories are:

  • cognitive empathy
  • emotional empathy
  • empathic concern

Cognitive empathy allows us to understand another’s point of view.  Attachment theorists also call this mentalizing or reflective functioning.  Parents and managers get better than expected reports on surveys from those that live and work with them.   When we understand another we pick up the social and cultural cues more easily.

Emotional empathy we have a non-verbal connection, almost like we’re streaming information without words.  This can make life complicated for people with trauma and attachment histories who are prone to picking up the subtext conversations, you know, those messages that aren’t explicit but seem to be embedded between the words.   When we become more skilled in tuning into our own internal signals the research shows we can better sort out the variety of messages coming from inside us and outside us.    At it’s best emotional empathy forms what Daniel Siegel the UCLA psychiatrist calls the “we” circuitry, a rapport between people that makes what we’re doing together go more smoothly.  Siegel’s written about this with couples and parenting.

The third kind of empathy Goldman calls “empathic concern”  which happens when we respond with care to someone.  It’s the kind of caring we find in all walks of life: at work when we let others know we support them, when we communicate non-defensively to others, creating a trusting field for others to take risks.

If you’re interested in exploring these kinds of topics and how to embody the concepts so they are not just an intellectual understanding I’d love to have you join us in the Embodied Practices Course that starts October 4, 2013.  Since it’s a self-study course you can join at any time.  There’s room for you!  And there’s a way for you to practice the simple, concrete skills of changing your life.


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