The 3 Types Of Empathy & How To Express Each

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two women showing empathy

Empathy is the ability to feel something for others, to put yourself in their position and feel what they are going through, and having respect for others.

By having empathy for others you are more of a respectful and kind person, but it goes even deeper than that: there are three different types of empathy that you can have, and they don't all look and feel the same.

Types of Empathy

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These types of empathy include cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Each different type manifests in its own way. 

However, even if you demonstrate one or more types of empathy, sometimes you can still come off as uncaring. Showing empathy takes time and effort and it’s usually in the steps of learning the different types of empathy and when each is best used.

Empathy is so important because through having empathy, you’re able to possess the ability to have shared experiences and imagine what it’s like to be in a particular situation, even if you have never been and might never be in the future. This ultimately helps you succeed at relating to and helping others.

1. Cognitive empathy

Cognitive empathy is the type of empathy that a lot of people mention when talking about empathy and that is to put yourself in other people’s shoes. 

It’s concerned with thought, understanding, and intellect. Cognitive empathy allows you to empathize with another person by being able to understand what they are feeling through shared experiences.

A situation in which you might use cognitive empathy could be when your roommate comes home and her boyfriend just broke up with her, and you let her know that you've been there and can understand what she's going through, helping her feel less alone. 

Pros: Cognitive empathy makes you a better communicator because it relies on information that in a way best connects with the other person. 

Cons: Cognitive empathy is said to be empathy by thought but not feeling. This means that there is a question to feel empathy when there’s no sympathy with it. It kind of disconnects you from the feeling of putting yourself in another’s shoes. 

Ways you can practice/develop Cognitive Empathy:

In order to practice cognitive empathy, next time you meet someone before you engage with them, consider what you know or don’t know about them, and be willing to learn more as you engage in a conversation.

When talking to them, keep in mind that you will have an unconscious bias as you interpret their mood or behavior, and keep in mind how they respond to you verbally and physically. 

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2. Emotional empathy

Emotional empathy is when you physically feel other's emotions alongside them.

It’s concerned with feelings, physical sensations, and the mirror neurons in the brain.

A situation in which you would use emotional empathy would be like crying with others at a wedding or feeling a visceral human response when you see someone fall off a bike.

Pros: This is a very important type of empathy to have because we can respond and even comfort our friends and family when they are going through something and from doing so, you can build close interpersonal relationships and careers. 

Cons: With emotional empathy, you can sort of getting an emotion overload and if you become overwhelmed a lot then you should practice self-control when using emotional empathy so you can manage your own emotions better. 

Ways you can practice/develop emotional empathy:

When a friend, family member, or significant other is telling you about a personal situation or struggle, try not to judge and focus on how and why your person feels like that. Then ask yourself how can I help them and relate to what they are going through.

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3. Compassionate empathy

Compassionate empathy is all about finding the right balance between logic and emotion. It’s what we typically understand as having empathy for others like feeling other's pain and taking action.

Compassionate empathy deals with Intellect, emotion, and action.

Pros: Compassionate empathy is the kind of empathy that everyone tries to have and is what we understand as having compassion for others and concern to help solve their problems. 

Cons: This is the type of empathy that most people want and it’s hard for some to practice because you fully need to understand and sympathize with other people while also taking action to help them and solve the problem. 

Ways you can practice/develop compassionate empathy:

When you directly ask another person what you can do to help them that is practicing compassionate empathy, and if they don’t want you to help, ask yourself why.

Remember whatever might have worked for you in the past in their situation and for others might not work for them as well. Try doing what you can in whatever way to help while using cognitive and emotional empathy at the same time. 

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Megan Hatch is a writer at YourTango who covers self, health and wellness, pop culture news.

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