What is Empathy?
Empathy plays a crucial role in the human experience. We want a connection with others from the moment we are born. The tie between parent and child is the starting point for this mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart connection.
The soothing physical touch of a caregiver relaxes the child’s nervous system and provides a sense of serenity and contentment. The child stares into their eyes and is given a reassuring expression. The child experiences a sense of self as well as the sense of another – the caregiver and the love they have for the youngster – through their eye contact. We have no feeling of self without another, and, ironically, we cannot conceive what it may be like to be another person without knowing our own self exists.
Empathy is the sense of being aware of another person’s perspective or point of view. With empathy, we “see what they see.” By observing another person and also by reflecting on our own, similar experiences as that person, we can imagine what it must be like to be in that person’s situation.
Why is Empathy Important?
Empathy is important because it is a connecting line between the minds of two or more humans. When we empathize with someone else, we are that much closer to potentially understanding him or her. Empathy is the first in a range of emotional states that bond us with other human beings. Although empathy does not necessarily lead to an emotional connection, it definitely helps us understand and relate to one another.
People who know how to empathize with other people tend to be happier in general because…
- They can easily shift from a self-focused to other-focused perspective which means they can detach from their own feelings and remain objective when needed.
- They can factor in the thoughts and feelings of other people when making decisions that are in the best interest of a group.
- They are able to predict what someone else might be feeling, or what they think, and therefore are about to do.
- They can choose to connect with the emotions of another person based on being in touch with that person’s thoughts.
- They can choose increased closeness in their relationships with other people because they can see things through the eyes of another.
- They can improve their communication skills as a result of their ability to predict what another person might want or need to hear at any given time.
- They can act as a mediator to foster understanding between two people by being conscious of what each person may be thinking, experiencing and feeling.
- They can negotiate more effectively by predicting the outcome of a situation based on what the perspective of the other party may be.