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Dissecting Empathy

1903, translation of Ger. Einfühlung (from ein “in” + Fühlung “feeling”), coined 1858 by Ger. philosopher Rudolf Lotze (1817-81)from Gk. empatheia “passion,” from en- “in” + pathos “feeling

“ A complex form of psychological inference in which observation, memory, knowledge, and reasoning are combined to yield insights into the thoughts and feelings of others.”

Saying it simply:
The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand his/her emotions and feelings.~ Alvin Goldman.

What’s the difference?
Sympathy: Oh! I’m so sorry. I wish it never happened.
Emotional Contagion: Oh! Your pain makes me cry too.
Pity: Poor you. You really need to be helped.
EMPATHY: I know exactly how it feels to be in this situation.
Apathy: Who cares? Or just ignore quietly on what happened.

Development of Empathy:

-Feelings of empathy begin normally at the age of 2. Common for toddlers to comfort each other in distress—by hugging, smooching or even by words.
-By the ages of 7 and 12 appear to be naturally inclined to feel empathy for others in pain(.researchers at the University of Chicago who used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI),
-There are three stages of Empathetic Maturity (Olsen, 2001)
Stage 1: Primitive pattern as in toddlers. Not in Adults.
Stage 2: The rationale that empathetic behaviousr is valid for everyone.
Stage 3:Mutuality occurs prior to any judgement about the person’s behaviour.

Why is it that even when empathy is a natural instinct some of us fail to act with empathy?
The extent of empathy varies.
Cognitive empathy: Simply knowing how others feel and what they are going through.
Emotional Empathy:When you actually feel physically within you what others must be feeling as if it was contagious.
Compassionate empathy: The feeling that not only makes us feel their pain but spontaneously moves us to help if need be

Unfortunately most of us are limited to cognitive empathy which 
selective, which in practical terms amounts to apathy in general.

Is empathy exclusively a ‘human trait?

No! All primates, even rodents and dolphis have been studied to have empathy.

Why need empathy
Empathy is the key element in humans to embrace the The Golden Rule (One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself ).
Empathy is the foundation of all Human Rights and the Unity of all mankind..

How to help oneself become more empathetic?
Batson and colleagues investigated the affective consequences of different perspective-taking instructions when participants listened to a story about Katie Banks, a young college student struggling with her life after the death of her parents.This study demonstrated that different instructions had distinct effects on how participants perceived the target’s situation. Notably, participants imagining themselves to be in Katie’s place showed stronger signs of discomfort and personal distress than participants focusing on the target’s responses and feelings (imagine other), or as participants instructed to take on an objective, detached point of view.
Conclusion: Imagine yourself in the situation to feel more motivated and get proactive.

The good enough mother, owing to her deep empathy with her infant, reflects in her face his feelings; this is why he sees himself in her face as if in a mirror and finds himself as he sees himself in her. The not good enough mother fails to reflect the infant’s feelings in her face because she is too preoccupied with her own concerns, such as her worries over whether she is doing right by her child, her anxiety that she might fail him.


Bruno Bettelheim (20th century), Austrian-U.S. child psychologist. A Good Enough Parent, ch. 1 (1987).

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