Empathy and Me
Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Compassion and sympathy are terms associated with empathy. Definitions vary, contributing to the challenge of defining empathy:
- Compassion is often defined as an emotion people feel when others are in need, which motivates people to help them. Sympathy is a feeling of care and understanding for someone in need. Some include in sympathy an empathic concern, a feeling of concern for another, in which some scholars include the wish to see them better off or happier.
- Empathy is also distinct from pity and emotional contagion.
- Pity is a feeling that one feels towards others that might be in trouble or in need of help as they cannot fix their problems themselves, often described as “feeling sorry” for someone.
- Emotional contagion is when a person (especially an infant or a member of a mob) imitatively “catches” the emotions that others are showing without necessarily recognizing this is happening.
When we read these above definitions, especially as a cluster, then it’s very clear that it is to do with the other. Well, I would like to share with all of you my thoughts on these emotions. My understanding of these emotions or these words was initially for others but eventually I started applying these to myself. I realised that;
- If I have to empathize with another I have to first empathize with the self within.
- If I have to be compassionate to another, that another had to be the ‘me’ within.
My journey of seeking started when I decided at a very young age to serve people. And all my actions were towards that goal. My studying Psychology, doing my Master’s in Social work, joining NGO work, then alternate education and then choosing to join a community school. All was driven by this innate emotion of compassion and empathy towards the other or world that was suffering.
However, my quest to know more took me closer to my inner journey, and I started seeing the me who was suffering. And discovered how that was stopping me from being really empathetic and compassionate towards others. Empathy before the inner journey was sympathy and compassion, was pity. When I addressed my pain and suffering with empathy and compassion, was I really ready to truly understand the other. . .
And so coming to the question of how important is empathy in today’s world?
I feel it is the most important.
But it will be authentic, real only if it begins with oneself.
We have to change these definitions. And begin to understand that inner work is vital to the actions we take in the outer world.
If I have shaken up the way you see words and their definitions, I think it’s a beginning. And if you do not agree, that’s a beginning too. That’s the space I want to meet people in. A truly empathetic and compassionate space for dialogue and mental wellbeing.