Interested in empathy definition and empathetic meaning? We define empathy as an ability to feel and emotionally understand what another person is experiencing and going through. Keep in mind that lack of empathy works against us!
Empathy is a popular topic among self-help gurus and life hacks lately, but do you know what it means, what is empathy definition? How would you define empathy?
When we begin to explore and define empathy, we see that it’s very important for social acceptance, and it can help you become a much better partner, friend or coworker. But did you know that it can also help you develop and improve your overall emotional and physical health? Knowing what empathy definition and it’s benefits, and when you understand empathetic meaning, you can tap into all of its benefits. Plus, empathy is a good skill to develop because a lack of empathy can actually work against you!
Empathy definition: Let’s Define Empathy
We’re all familiar with the common cliché, “walking in someone else’s shoes,” but did you know that that’s basically empathy definition in a nutshell? And it’s a great place to start when we want to define empathy.
But let’s explore the definition of empathy a little more. What is empathy? An empathetic definition says it’s the ability to share another person’s feelings, and to understand what he or she is experiencing. And this basic empathetic meaning really describes how to connect with someone on a meaningful level. If we’re truly empathetic, we can tap into another person’s emotional state and actually be there with them and for them.
And when you can be there for someone, you can establish deeper and stronger interpersonal connections and interact more genuinely. Why? Because you make people feel understood and respected. And who doesn’t want to feel safe and accepted?
When people ask, “What is empathy?” we often get confused and think that sympathy and empathy are one and the same. But while they are similar terms, they definitely have different meanings. Sympathy is about having pity for another person’s hardships, while we define empathy as actually experiencing and sharing the feelings of other person. Sometimes it can happen that sympathy leads to empathy as you gain more experiences and develop new perspectives on life. We’ll talk more about that in a little bit.
It’s Easy to Define Empathy But Practicing Empathy Takes Time
Even though the empathy definition sounds simple, not everyone has an easy time with it. While empathy comes easy for some, the others don’t readily experience it and it can take some practice but that’s okay. Everyone has the power within themselves to learn new things and grow into a better person every day.
What does empathy definition means in real life? Let’s look at the following example of empathy below.
Imagine you’re at your office, and you hear a co-worker telling a story to her fellow colleagues. She explains that her only child was born with a rare genetic condition and it caused her little face to appear swollen and bruised. This mother expresses that she felt a lot of discomfort because whenever she went into shops with her child, people would wrongly assume that the facial anomalies were the result of abuse.
She never got to hear the words, “Oh, what a cute baby!” or, “You’re such a good mother!” And this unfair treatment and all of those false assumptions always caused her so much pain, but she tried not to take it to heart. She knew that motherhood was a profound learning experience, even though her’s included a lot of misunderstanding and sadness.
One co-worker sympathized with this story and felt pity for her, but is this the meaning of empathy? Not exactly. It was only years later, when the co-worker became a mother herself, that she could finally empathize with how difficult this experience must have been for her colleague. She would even start crying as she recalled the story years later. Her once sympathetic reaction had now transformed into empathy due to the shared experience of motherhood that she and her coworker now shared. What does empathy mean in this example? It’s the new mother’s ability to finally understand her coworker’s discomfort and share those same emotions, too.
Lack of Empathy and The Problems It Can Cause
We know that mentally ill and psychopathic individuals are incapable of empathy, from no fault of their own. Due to their illnesses, they simply aren’t able to connect with the emotions of other people; it would simply be unfair to expect empathy from them.
But what about people who are capable of empathy, but don’t have an easy time tapping into feelings and emotions? For some people, empathy just doesn’t come naturally, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn empathetic meaning and start practicing it in their own life. In fact, we should know what is empathy, because a lack of empathy can work against us, without us even realizing it.
Having empathy is a fundamental social skill that helps us in many diverse situations. So, without empathy, we can really throw ourselves under the bus. If you’re not empathetic, you can easily come across as insensitive or cold. People who don’t respond and engage emotionally to another person’s joy or misfortune are often judged with contempt, all because they haven’t responded appropriately to the social situation at hand. And their lack of empathy is the culprit.
Because we now know the definition of empathy, let’s take an obvious look at what it’s not. It will further help us to define empathy so that we can practice it in our daily lives.
What would you think if a woman was upset over the death of her dog, and another person responded by saying
“Why are you so upset? Death is just a part of life, and besides, you know dogs don’t have a very long lifespan anyways.”
Thanks for nothing, right?!
It goes without saying that most people wouldn’t describe this as the meaning of empathy. And besides, everybody already knows that dogs don’t live as long as people do, and someone mourning any type of loss doesn’t need to hear logic and facts. They want to mourn, and they want others to accept their grieving and to be there for them.
That’s why the majority of people would say that this response was very rude, distasteful, and highly insensitive to the woman’s feelings. But was he trying to be rude? Probably not! Maybe his response was simply the result of his life perspective and personality type. And this, unfortunately, makes for a very bad empathetic definition.
His ability to see things very logically, combined with a detached personality led him to respond this way, instead of being able to connect emotionally and share in this woman’s grief. In the end, his statements made him appear cold and callous, but the truth is, he’s probably not very good at tapping into someone else’s feelings. Although this is an example of a personal interaction, the inability to empathize with others can have far reaching and negative impacts on all of our social interactions, whether they’re at work, home or simply when we’re out and about.
It’s so beneficial to practice and not just learn empathy definition read social cues correctly and to develop empathy, because apart from appearing unsympathetic, we also miss a chance to connect in a meaningful way with others. What’s more, when we understand empathetic meaning, we can manage social situations better.
The Importance of Developing Empathy in Your Life
So far, we’ve seen how to define empathy and how important it is for social acceptance. But it is also beneficial for developing overall emotional and physical health. It’s a skill that’s at the root of all pro-social behavior, which fosters the development of close relationships, tight friendships and strong communities.
When we explore the definition of empathy and what it means in our life, we must do so knowing that understanding others is key to a meaningful and connected life. Being understood is a way to validate the shared experiences among people, and this helps people feel like they’re on the same team, and that they’re working together to reach mutual goals.
Because it is so fundamental, it’s important to help our children retain their natural empathetic skills. Children, by nature, are inclined towards it, and when those traits are encouraged through effective parenting, these youngsters generally develop into empathetic adults, who are trustworthy and caring throughout their lives. They may develop closer bonds between people, and their relationships may be more satisfying because they’re able to not only interact with people effectively, but they’re actually able to emotionally connect and interact with others.
And while it’s easy to see why an empathetic partner or a friend is desirable and attractive, what is empathy outside of our private lives? Where else do we want to be understood and acknowledged?
What does empathy mean in the medical field? It’s an understanding and compassionate doctor, therapist or counselor. It’s important that the medical professionals, who provide us specialized care, really understand both the stress and the strain – both physical and emotional – that we’re under due to our illnesses and worries. The term, “bedside manner” is actually a definition of empathy, and it’s a way to say whether a doctor is empathetic or not. If your nurse or doctor has a positive bedside manner, that means she’s able to logically asses your health situation and understand what you’re feeling on an emotional level. This is wonderful healthcare, isn’t it?
What Does Empathy Mean in Every Day Life?
So what steps can we all take to reduce our lack of empathy and develop compassionate and empathetic connections instead?
Empathy is a skill that can be practiced and improved, even if it doesn’t come easy or naturally for you. The first step you can take is to define empathy so that it’s something relevant to you and your life situation.
If you’re a medical professional, you can create a personalized meaning of empathy so that it applies to your job tasks. Or, if you’re a stay-at-home mom, your empathetic definition will speak specifically to your children and household responsibilities. Basically, examples of empathy take on different characteristics depending on the individual.
Just stay positive and optimistic while you work on developing your own definition of empathy and putting it into practice. It might feel uncomfortable at first, and that’s okay. It’s quite normal to experience discomfort before gaining these new skills.
Examples of Empathy to Put into Practice
A basic skill to start with is listening. Ask yourself if you’re really listening to other people when they are talking. This means listening so that you understand them, and take their point of view into consideration. While you listen, try not to respond, and instead, try to think about what they’re expressing and what their perspective is. Even if you don’t fully understand or agree, try to respect it. Everyone is different and we should allow these differences to exist peacefully. This might be one of the most important examples of empathy so it’s worth the effort to master it.
Respect Universal Needs
It’s important to remember that even though we’re all different and have different motivations because of our individuality, we all share some very basic and intrinsic needs. These can be a wonderful way to relate to one another and to connect empathetically. Some needs are to feel respected and heard. Or, to feel important and valued by family and friends. Another need is to be understood and supported, whether you’re celebrating something or suffering. By acknowledging these similar needs, you can enhance your interpersonal relationships and overall wellbeing.
The Empathetic meaning Challenges Your Prejudices
Along with respecting natural differences between people and their perspectives, and understanding the shared motivations and commonalities between individuals, it is important to challenge your prejudices, too.
What does empathy mean when it comes to social groups? Making assumptions about groups of people, and collectively labeling individuals hinders the potential to empathize with people. Why? The first reason is that it’s almost a guarantee that all of your preconceived opinions are not based on the actual experiences with either the group or with the individual. Secondly, it immediately creates a lot of distance between you and the others, where isolation replaces empathy.
If you begin to analyze your prejudices, and start to look past the label and onto the unique qualities of the individuals, you will start to see that these assumptions are simply not supported by facts. What’s more, you’ll learn that they’ve made a huge gap between you and other human beings, even though you all share the same universal needs. When you can clean up your perspective, and strip it of prejudices and labels, you’ll be able to understand others better. Plus, you might even begin to understand what it feels like to wear a particular societal label when it doesn’t fit you, and even marginalizes you.
Throughout the years, social movements and change have often been the result of highly empathic people, which makes social outreach just one more practical approach for us to use as we develop our empathetic skills. Being able to connect on a meaningful, emotional level can help us serve those people who are persecuted and marginalized. But outreach doesn’t have to extend to large scale projects and movements. The meaning of empathy can be applied even if it’s not part of a global movement. Your empathy is needed in your world, right there in your town or city.
What does empathy mean in outreach movements? Consider the growing social media movement calling for people to “do something for nothing.” It is only one of many examples of empathy in action, but it’s still powerful. It began as a small movement on the streets of London when a trained hairdresser began offering free haircuts to homeless individuals who found themselves living out on the street for any number of reasons. For some it was because of unemployment. For others, it was addiction. This idea of helping others by using a skill you already have (without expecting anything in return!) is a really great way to develop your empathetic skills.
It’s a way to define empathy on your own terms and that makes sense to you and your current life situation – it gives empathy a relevant place in your world.
Many of the homeless people who received a free haircut expressed feeling renewed and less invisible, because they weren’t invisible anymore. The hairdresser saw them, but she didn’t see them with pity or misunderstanding. She saw them empathetically and then, they felt connected because someone connected with them emotionally.
If you don’t have a community outreach program to take part in, that’s okay. Even a simple act of kindness and offering of your time can greatly benefit not just the receiver, but the giver. Yep, that means you! In fact, it’s always a win-win when it comes to empathy. Helping others has a way of connecting the needs of all individuals. Helping out can increase our ability to be empathetic, even for those of us who aren’t necessarily inclined to be emotionally available.
Take a Digital Detox
Even though social media connects us to hundreds of people around the world every single day, the quality of these connections is making it more difficult for us to engage empathetically with one another.
Because online interaction leaves us isolated and remote, there are fewer opportunities to practice the other four examples of empathy. Some people might even argue that the online community is the perfect playground for hostility instead of compassion. So, even though it’s a very simple step, taking a digital detox can help you engage with people in a more personal manner, and help you truly witness and experience their emotions.
In our day and age, it’s important to define empathy so that it’s relevant to your life so that you can apply that personalized empathetic meaning to your daily choices. When you do, your relationships will thrive, and you’ll thrive, too, both physically and emotionally.
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