Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Exploring the different types of empathy

When exploring “empathy”, I often think about the types of empathy.

1. The “mirroring” type where we are able to feel what the other person feels, but don’t need to have a “lived experience” of that feeling or context.

2. The “deeper lived experience” type of empathy is where we have experienced that context or feeling ourselves, and hence, are able to truly empathize from “deep within” rather than through “mirroring” alone.

3. The “compassionate” type of empathy is where we are able to hold space for the feelings of others with care and compassion, but not necessarily experiencing the feelings of others in real time.

4. The “cognitive” type is where we can intellectually recognize, understand, and process the feeling, but we don’t actually “feel or experience it”. It’s a more emotionally detached perspective.

Each has its pros and cons. None is necessarily better than the other. It will depend on context.

I wonder which one of the above types of empathy resonate with you the most. In other words, you can have more than one, but which one is the most dominant for you.

Knowing that will help you to navigate your relationships, and navigate the world better. 

Type 1 and 2 are most “fused”.  They are great for validation but are most at risk of “fatigue”. 

Type 3 and 4 are more defused and detached, and are better for problem solving perhaps but can be less validating then type 1 and 2.  

Type 4 is the most “emotionally detached” and can be misunderstood as cold or uncaring at times. This may not be true at all.  They may be caring more in a “cognitive and thinking kind of way” i.e. not feeling based.  It can be more “service” orientated.  

Many Doctors may have type 1 and 2 which may lure them into the “caring profession”.  But that in itself, can be a trap if unaware as compassion fatigue may be a risk here.  

So consider cultivating type 3 through defusion and mindfulness work, and try to resolve our own past issues so that type 2 is not too “triggering”.  I acknowledge that this can be very difficult.

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