Are you sure you know what empathy is?
Is that kindness? Pity? Compassion?
You can often see how, for the purpose of some psychological research, people “take over” someone’s life, at least for a short time. The life of a tramp, a beggar or an owner of an expensive car…
How do casual passers-by react when they are stopped by a man in a begging suit begging for food or money, and how when they are stopped from a car by a seemingly well-to-do young man who asks for an address?
Would you help anyone sooner? Are you aware of other people’s feelings, happiness or unhappiness until you feel them on your own skin?
It is known that empathy is the ability to look at life from someone else’s perspective, all in order to understand what that other person is feeling.
Many psychological researches have started from the fact that people are inherently egocentric, but the fact that man is a social being, who lives, works and fights for his survival in the community, changes the view of many things. With such a life in the community, a person becomes capable of compassion.
In the “Dictionary of Psychology” by Zarko Trebjeshanin, a Serbian psychologist, empathy is defined literally as “feeling”, “enjoying” the emotional state, opinion and behavior of other people. However, empathy does not only mean the process of empathizing with the feelings of people, but also of other sentient living beings.
Is empathy learned?
From an early age, the child is instructed that through interaction and socializing with peers, he becomes ready to develop many qualities of emotional intelligence, but also empathy itself. By personal example, through the attention and care of their loved ones, parents can show their children what empathy is and in that way they will develop the same kind of feelings in them as well.
Psychologist Martin Hoffman defined empathy as “an emotional reaction that is more appropriate for the situation in which the other person finds himself than for his own.”
Empathy encompasses feelings of concern for others, which we experience when perceiving the suffering of others. It is important to point out the fact that empathy is one of the close factors and preconditions for accepting children with developmental disabilities. If you teach children to cooperate, not reject and play with their friends who have developmental difficulties, be sure that you are on the right path to develop empathy in your child and teach him the right values.
Empathy in children
Only between the ages of five and eight do children develop the experience of other people in their environment as separate individuals who have their own world life, identity and past. Based on everyday examples, parents can influence the child to start judging the feelings of others on their own over time.
Be it from their peers they play with or from the heroes from the stories they read to them at bedtime. By insisting on talking to their children and analyzing certain actions of their peers or heroes from fairy tales and cartoons, as well as interpreting their feelings, the child will eventually grow into a socially empathetic being who will more easily understand other people’s emotions.
Do you avoid showing emotion to protect yourself?
How many times have you not acknowledged your vulnerability to protect yourself from the negative influences of the environment? You need to recognize, acknowledge, and adequately express your feelings in order to understand and share another person’s emotional state. Emotional intelligence requires you to be empathetic not only to others, but to yourself as well.
How do we know when our empathy has been abused?
Only he who loves and knows himself can love and meet others. However, you have certainly met people who are extremely negative, but they are people who are from a close environment and you cannot avoid them. Having the ability to empathize does not mean that you are forced to sympathize with everyone who is used to looking at the world from a negative angle.
You must not forget yourself and your perspective. When you conclude that the feelings of others begin to affect you and to drain your energy, especially negative feelings, the logical sequence of events is that you will distance yourself from such people.
How would a world without empathy work?
One of the key elements of the evolutionary change of man as a social being is certainly the development of awareness of others. An integral part of a human being is to empathize, to have the ability to imagine oneself in some other situation in which one finds oneself.
Without empathy there would be no friendship, nor love!
Empathy is not just the knowledge and cognition of other people’s feelings, but the ability to feel and experience those feelings ourselves. Without empathy, mothers would not be able to take care of their children in the right way, they would not know what it takes for a newborn who expresses his dissatisfaction with something or some unmet need through crying.
Without empathy, emotional partners and friends would not care about each other’s feelings, and therefore they would not be able to make each other’s life easier, more beautiful and help in an adequate way, they would not be able to function together. Simply, without empathy, human life as a social being would no longer make sense.
Empathy and moral development
People are usually just silent observers when they look at another person who is in some kind of danger or has a certain problem. Such a model of the observer leads us to a moral dilemma within which empathy anxiety arises.
People learn from experience that helping others makes them feel good. We understand that the help we provide to someone leads to positive feelings and personal satisfaction. Empathy contributes to pro social behavior, and is even able to reduce aggressive behavior.
Parents who take more care of their children and talk to them, help them solve problems and thus have a more open relationship with their children, greatly reduce the degree of aggression in them and give them a positive example that they will follow through their growing up. , so they will certainly continue to help others.
Types of empathy
In his book, Empathy and Moral Development, the American psychologist Martin Hoffman outlined five basic ways to express empathy:
Mimicry / imitation / feedback
Mimicry is interesting because it is at the very core of empathy, it makes up its essence. Namely, one person will perceive the expressiveness of another person, he will imitate it, so the brain will make the observer feel the same as the person he is observing. Adam Smith described mimicry in a simple way:
“When we see a raised hand, directed towards another person’s leg or arm, we naturally gather and withdraw our own hand”.
Classical conditioning is an important mechanism for the development of empathy in the earliest childhood, and especially in the period before the development of speech. The American psychiatrist Sullivan defines empathy as a form of non-verbal association and togetherness between mother and child. When the mother often holds the baby in her arms with security, love and a smile on her face, the baby feels pleasant and connects that experience with that feeling. Later, even just the mother’s smile will make the baby feel comfortable. This direct physical conditioning applies to both positive and negative emotions.
A direct association of signals present in the situation of a person who is experiencing some discomfort, and which reminds the observer of his own experience from the past, will result in the appearance of feelings that correspond to the feelings of the victim. One of the frequent examples of direct association in psychology is a boy who observes another who has cut himself. The sight of blood, the sound of crying, but also any other signal, will remind the boy of the observer of his personal experience with the cut and will cause empathy anxiety in the form of a desire to help the injured boy and to alleviate the situation he found himself in as soon as possible. Only then will the boy who observes the situation be able to calm his anxiety.
In this way of expressing empathy, language plays the role of mediator. Then language is the only source of information about another person’s anxiety. For example, if you receive a letter in which the other person describes to you what happened to them and how they feel, that emotional distress, which someone conveys to you only through language, and is not physically present, can also arouse empathy in you.
In this case, a high degree of emotional intelligence and cognitive abilities is needed, because only in that way can you put yourself in someone else’s place and imagine how he or she feels. Hoffman concluded that there are two types of role-taking. Self-directed role-playing, when people observe a person in need and when they can imagine how they would feel in the same situation. And taking on roles aimed at others, when people find out about someone else’s misfortune, so they can focus directly on the victim and imagine how she feels. That way, I can feel the emotions that the victim also feels.
When empathy arouses compassion, and when anger?
Emphatic anger will be preceded by compassion. If you sympathize with someone who is experiencing a certain type of injustice and give them support, encourage them to talk about the injustice that has befallen them, it can release the direct anger that that person has voluntarily suppressed.
It often happens that empathy anger develops out of compassion, which leads to aggressive behavior as a way of defending the victim. There are two types of such anger. In the first type, the victim feels anger towards someone who has harmed her, when the observer shows compassion and empathy anger because of the situation in which the victim found himself.
The second type of anger is more complex.
Then the observer empathizes with the feelings of the victim, but he also feels anger towards the abuser, even when the victim himself is no longer angry, but only sad or disappointed. The second type of anger is precisely the one that often leads to aggression.
Empathy and antisocial personality disorder
Precisely because of the assumed fundamental role in the development of morality, empathy is described as a “moral emotion,” which consists of a cognitive and emotional component.
The cognitive component of empathy refers to the ability to understand the emotions and feelings of other people, while the emotional component refers to the ability to share the emotional states of others and experience their feelings. Deficits in empathy encourage antisocial behavior, and often aggressive behavior.
Namely, individuals with a lower level of empathy cannot experience or understand the emotional consequences of antisocial and aggressive acts on other people, which is why it is likely that they will be the perpetrators of such acts. On the other hand, people with developed empathy can understand or experience other people’s fear, their negative emotional states and sadness when someone commits an immoral act.
Guilt for not helping?
People who see that someone needs help can refrain from helping anyway, because they feel that it is better to avoid involvement in an awkward situation or fear.
Whatever the reason, the moment they allow something bad to happen to someone, and they may have been able to prevent it, a feeling of guilt arises. You have witnessed many newspaper articles and television shows about a growing number of people who were not helped by passers-by if they got sick, all under the pretext that someone might be a drug addict or a drunkard, so that person passed away because no one he did not approach and provide assistance.
Or, unfortunately, an increasing number of fights from which, out of fear for their own lives, passers-by just want to get away as soon as possible and remain silent observers.
Is empathy good?
An old Indian saying goes:
“Walk a mile in another man’s shoes before you criticize him”.
One of the most interesting independent experiments was done by the English writer George Orwell, who, wanting to discover the life of people from the social margins, dressed as a homeless man, lived on the streets, with vagrants and beggars.
This is how one of his best books “Nobody and Nothing in Paris and London” was created, where Orwell, only on the basis of his own experience, could conclude and write about the life of people in whose skin he was never, in this case, people living in street. He even developed friendships with some of them and considered it the best trip of his life.
He realized that empathy leads us to good, making us good and making us better.
It can be concluded that empathy morality is very fragile. It can promote pro social behavior and reduce the use of aggression in cultures guided by the principles of justice and care for others, but it can also be destroyed by demonstrating power in education, valuing competition more than helping, and overemphasizing selfish tendencies.
It might not be so bad if people practiced the ability to “be someone else” a little more often, if they did not have prejudices and established moral patterns according to which they would share advice or criticize and condemn the environment. Start from your environment and be attentive listeners who will first hear, understand, feel, and only then give their opinion or judgment about something and accordingly adequately help.
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