Empathy: what it is and its psychological significance

Empathy, what is it really? What are the types of empathy? Why do you try it, or not? Let's go to the discovery of empathy, a characteristic typical of highly sensitive people.

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Empathy, what is it really? What are the types of empathy? Why do you try it, or not? Let's go to the discovery of empathy, a characteristic typical of highly sensitive people.

We can define empathy as the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes and to understand her fully, without letting ourselves be too carried away by her emotions of the moment, to be able to feel what she feels and at the same time to give the right advice when needed, keeping our mind clear.

To be an empathic person it is necessary knowing how to identify and recognize their emotions to then be able to identify them in other people. To be empathetic towards others, we must therefore work on ourselves first of all because if we do not know ourselves and if we do not know how to distinguish our emotions, we will never be able to understand even those of others.


We can also add that whoever listens to himself is also able to listen to the other and consequently to be empathetic, tolerant, courageous, communicative, benevolent towards other people and able to help them.


Empathy, what is it

According to psychology, empathy is precisely the ability to put yourself immediately in the state of mind or in the situation of another person, with no or little emotional participation.

Avoiding emotional participation serves a do not get too carried away by the emotions of others. For example, if a person is sad because of something serious we must be able to understand and feel his sadness but without letting ourselves be carried away by the desperation that can transmit us, otherwise we will never be able to be useful to comfort her and to make her smile again even for a moment.

Different is the definition of empathy in art criticism and advertising and this unfortunately can cause some confusion. In this case, in fact, empathy is defined as the ability to emotionally involve the user of a work of art or an advertisement with a message in which he is led to identify with.

Fonte foto: Tracy Nerd Girl

We can correctly speak of empathy as of capacity to fully understand the state of mind of others, whether it is joy or pain. Empathy means "feeling inside", for example "putting yourself in the other person's shoes", and it is a capacity that is part of the human and animal experience.


Empathy, types

The discourse on empathy has been deepened for a long time in the fields of psychology, sociology and psychotherapy, so much so that experts have come to define different types of empathy, speaking for example of positive empathy and negative empathy with respect to the ability to share or not joy of others.

positive empathy

Positive empathy occurs when a person is able to participate fully in the joy of others, that is, he knows how to rejoice together with the other person because he has managed to grasp the happiness that the other person is experiencing.

Negative empathy

Negative empathy occurs when a person fails to empathize with the joy of others, for example due to negative experiences in the past that re-emerge. It is a kind of escape from the joy of others.

Fonte foto: Tracy Nerd Girl

Intercultural empathy

There are other types of empathy that are part of the studies onintercultural empathy. Let's find out what they are.

  • Behavioral empathy: understanding the behaviors of a different culture and their causes, understanding the why of the behavior and the chains of related behaviors.
  • Emotional empathy: being able to perceive the emotions experienced by others, even in cultures other than one's own.
  • Relational empathy: understand the map of the subject's relationships and his / her affective values ​​in the culture to which he / she belongs.
  • Cognitive empathy: understanding the cognitive prototypes active at a given moment of time in a certain culture, the beliefs of which it is composed, the values, ideologies, mental structures that the culturally different subject possesses and to which it still stands.

Empathy between parents and children

Empathy arises in the child from the first days of life. According to Hoffman's theories, parents should learn from spontaneity of the child to be empathic people and to educate and care for him above all through sensitivity and not with punishments.

Between parents and children, learning and demonstrating empathy should turn out to be reciprocal. From this point of view it is interesting to remember that parents themselves can help children recognize emotions and be more empathetic as they grow up.

Empathy at school

improve relations between students and between pupils and teachers perhaps we should also follow the Danish example and introduce empathy as a school subject. This way everyone would be able to better understand others and their emotions. The same school system and teaching methods would find very different foundations.

Not all teachers are able to show empathy towards their students and at the same time there are different relationship difficulties between children and young people who attend school, a set of aspects that risk leading to bullying.

So how about teaching empathy both at school and in the family?


Why do we empathize, or not?

Why can it happen to empathize with others, or not? It is the task of psychology to delve into this topic, but we can still try to hypothesize about it.

In fact, we understand that there are highly sensitive people who feel empathy towards others in a spontaneous way, but there are also less sensitive people, who might be worth teaching empathy so that they can learn it and put it into practice.


The truth is that, as already mentioned, we cannot empathize with others and identify with their emotions and moods if first of all we are unable to recognize emotions starting from what we ourselves feel.

Identification, the recognition and management of emotions they are the basis of personal growth and communication with others and with the outside world. So, in conclusion, if we want to be more empathetic and open towards others, we first learn to know ourselves.

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Read also:

  • Because empathy is much more than putting yourself in the other person's shoes
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