Empathy & All Its Many Forms

     Did you know that there are different types of empathy?

Emotional intelligence discussions have been on the rise in recent yea


rs, and within those conversations there is now talk about how empathy can show up differently in our interactions. Some of us many have a natural ability to demonstrate one type of empathy, while needing to actively build skill in other types. Keep reading to dive a bit deeper into the many faces of empathy.

Somatic Empathy

Have you ever physically felt someone else’s pain, happiness or distress? If so, then you may have been experiencing somatic empathy. There have been cases of people with strong empathic abilities feeling the pains of others in crisis thousands of miles away! In our everyday lives, we may see a person who is in physical distress and feel something deep in our gut as a reaction to their plight.

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy is being able to adopt and understand another’s perspective. It is a conscious and logical understanding of someone else’s position and emotional experience. It is a way to rationalize and intellectualize someone else’s emotional experience and react accordingly (not necessarily emotionally, but appropriately).

Emotional Empathy

When most people describe their understanding of empathy, emotional empathy is what they refer to. Emotional empathy involves emotional and sometimes physical reactions to someone else’s emotional experience. When a person reacts emotionally to our struggle, it can be comforting for some. In others, it may trigger their own emotional empathetic reaction in not wanting others to feel their pain.

Spiritual Empathy

Spiritual empathy is not related to religious beliefs but rather being able to connect deeply with someone else’s feelings. It is allowing space for others to feel as they do, while respecting the space that they’re in. It is also related to compassionate empathy in that both seek solutions while also providing emotional support. While this is a core piece of showing compassionate empathy, spiritual empathy is more concerned with being principled within ourselves so that we can best show up for others.

Compassionate Empathy

This form of empathy combines cognitive and emotional empathy behaviors. In essence, you are feeling things deeply with another person, but allowing yourself the space to cognitively manage the situation in a healthy way. Using your cognitive abilities, you’ll be better able to offer solutions (if needed) or decide to just offer a listening ear. In this way, the other person feels heard and understood, while you’re able to show you care and maintain your energy.

So, as it turns out there are so many different ways to be empathetic - and one way isn't better than another. A person who is a more logical thinker is more likely to display cognitive empathy than someone who wears their heart on their sleeve. When on the receiving end of empathy, it's helpful to keep this in mind- you may think someone lacks empathy or doesn't care- but in fact they may be displaying their kindness in a different way than you'd expect.

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