The 3 Different Types Of Empathy — And How To Express Each One

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offering support and empathy

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

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

What are the 3 types of empathy?

The 3 types of empathy are cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, 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 through the steps of learning the different types of empathy and when to use each.

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Empathy is important because you’re able to use your 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 where you put yourself in another person'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.

Example of cognitive empathy: When your roommate comes home and her boyfriend just broke up with her, 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 of feeling empathy when there’s no sympathy that comes along with it.

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

When talking to this person, 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 another person's emotions alongside them. It’s concerned with feelings, physical sensations, and the mirror neurons in the brain.

Example of emotional empathy: You would use emotional empathy when 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. By doing so, you build close interpersonal relationships.

Cons: With emotional empathy, you might end up in emotion overload. If you become overwhelmed a lot, practice self-control when using emotional empathy so you can manage your own emotions better.

How to practice and develop emotional empathy: When a friend, family member, or significant other is telling you about a personal situation or struggle, try not to judge them.

Instead, focus on how and why this person feels like that. Then, ask yourself how you can help and relate to what they are going through.

3. Compassionate empathy

Compassionate empathy is all about finding the right balance between logic and emotion.

Compassionate empathy deals with Intellect, emotion, and action. It’s what we typically understand as having empathy for others, like feeling someone's pain and taking action.

Example of emotional empathy: When you see someone on the street asking for money, food, or help, you immediately walk over to them. This may include you offering them assistance or giving them a shoulder to cry on.

Pros: Compassionate empathy is the kind of empathy everyone should strive to have. It's what we understand as having compassion for others and being concerned to help solve their problems.

Cons: This is the type of empathy most people desire, but it’s hard for some to practice. You fully need to understand and sympathize with other people, while also taking action to help them.

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

Remember that whatever might have worked for you in the past in their situation or for others, might not work for them.

RELATED: How To Be Empathetic & Powerful At The Very Same Time

Megan Hatch is a former contributor to YourTango who has had bylines on Medium, Buzzfeed, MSN Canada, Patch, Voice of America, Canyon News, and others. Follow her on Instagram and on Twitter for more.