Empathy in Communication and Psychology

Personal development

Empathy is inherent in every person, but it is developed at different levels. The ability to understand other people’s feelings positively affects the relationship in society, family building, work process in the team. Progressive employers in recent years indicate empathy (perception of other people’s emotions) among the requirements for potential job applicants.

The widespread use of the term, introduced in 1912 by the experimental psychologist Titchener, has not led to its clear understanding by the general masses. There are different levels of empathy. Each has its own characteristics, advantages and disadvantages. In our article we will look at all aspects of the concept, life examples of the emotional phenomenon, and techniques for developing increased empathy.

What is empathy?

Empathy is experienced by everyone at some level. The concept was originally studied in philosophy and was called “empathy,” when a person imitates reality with his own consciousness, allowing him to experience feelings and emotions toward the object of observation. In this state, the empath puts himself in the other person’s shoes.

For a long time empathy was understood as sympathy and only Edward Titchener introduced the term empathy (in feelings) by analogy with sympathy (with feelings) and from the Greek empatheia (empathy). The emerged interest in the phenomenon of knowing others through oneself brought it to a fundamentally new level. It began to be actively studied in psychology.

What is empathy
What is empathy

What is empathy in the modern sense? It is the conscious ability to recognize and feel the emotional state of another person with a response. A person without such abilities cannot create favorable interpersonal relationships. It is erroneous to view the skill in terms of empathy in negative situations. It can be happiness and joy.

What is included in the concept of empathy?

Every person has the ability to empathize. Some people have the highest level of empathy, while others, on the contrary, have practically no empathy. There are people whose level of empathy is incredibly low. The skill is subject to certain mechanisms:

  • An unselfish desire to recognize another person’s emotional state. It is the ability to reject labels, stereotypes, and the unwillingness to get into other people’s problems. This, of course, can be learned through long work on oneself. Some people are born highly empathic and cannot brush aside the feelings of others.
  • Sincere empathy. Not to be confused with the ability to give judgment. Such people never utter the phrases “it’s your own fault,” “everyone knows you can’t do that,” and so on. Blaming the other for mistakes has nothing to do with empathy. Any conclusions already imply an evaluation. By such behavior, one shields oneself from other people’s emotions.
  • Awareness of the psychological individual reality of others. Empathy denies social conditioning and labels. Each person has their own threshold of sensitivity, their own views, beliefs, and perceptions. If the other person is worried about something, it means it is important to them.

Everyone has some level of empathy, but not to the extent described. If it is too low, it has a negative effect on many life situations, from domestic to professional.

The main attributes of an empath

Characteristic features of an empathic personality are the following manifestations:

  • Empathy. In difficult life situations, people tend to lose adequacy and self-control. High manifestations of empathy allow to become a support and help to overcome adversity. The depth of the arising response directly depends on the level of empathy. It can be so high that it can even provoke depression. As mentioned above, one should not identify oneself with the other. You have to be able to distinguish between your own and other people’s emotions.
  • Intuition. An empathic person has it more developed than others. Such people don’t need to explain anything. They understand everything without words.
  • Unselfishness. Empathy leads to a desire to help without any benefit. An excellent example is unselfish friendship as the highest manifestation of understanding of feelings of other people.
  • Observation. With a well-developed level of empathy, absolutely all little things become noticeable and noticed. A high degree of sensitivity allows one to quickly react to a changing situation and find a “sensual” response.
  • Creativity. Among creative people, it is empathy that is considered the very high matter that allows you to succeed. This trait is inherent in many successful musicians, artists, poets, and writers.The main attributes of an empathThe main attributes of an empath

Empaths never judge a person for their actions. They always find a justification and explanation for this or that action, quite often they simply do not comment on it in any way. Next to them, people feel their importance, which raises their self-esteem.

Such kinds of people are easy to recognize in everyday communication. They show the following signs:

  • do not know how to say no;
  • give support even to a person who has hurt them in the past;
  • always come to the rescue;
  • can listen for hours to the problems of others without moralizing or judging, but can help with advice;
  • do not leave in trouble;
  • put the interests of others before their own;
  • do not tolerate people who are duplicitous and cruel, but can not only be tolerant of such people, but often come to their aid.

They are good spouses and loyal friends.

Types of empathy

Such an emotion is characterized by different manifestations. Each is characterized by certain mechanisms of action, conditions, and responses.


Such empathy is manifested by empathy and analysis of actions. Feelings correlate with one’s own life experience and similar situations in the past. A person experiencing certain emotions does not need to express anything in words. Feelings are read on the basis of gestures, facial expressions, intonation, eye expressions. This empathy makes it easy to build communication and to dispose of others.


Such empathy is considered controversial in terms of its benefits and harms. It represents the deepest immersion into another person’s personality, accompanied by a partial or complete loss of control over one’s own emotions. It is very difficult to restrain oneself under such a condition because of the special structure of the nervous system that provokes it. Perception is so acute that it can lead to such negative consequences as a nervous breakdown. In higher empaths, it can provoke severe depression.


Such empathy can be called the most favorable. It is based on anticipating the reactions of interlocutors in a given situation. With a low level of this kind of empathy, tactfulness is very poorly developed, and with higher indicators, on the contrary, a person builds a system of behavior that will not create any discomfort for those around him.

Usually all three manifestations are present to a greater or lesser degree. There are individuals who do not possess any of the types of empathy. Such people are difficult to deal with due to the fact that they do not reckon with those around them, often behaving tactlessly.

Pros and cons of quality
Pros and cons of quality

Pros and cons of quality

A small number of people have well-developed empathy. They are merciful, kind, and have the highest need for justice. In society such people are desirable, but psychologists cannot give an unequivocal answer as to how good or bad such receptivity is.

The positive aspects of an empath:

  • Well-developed intuition. Allows you to choose the right path in terms of morality, helps to recognize true friends.
  • Ability to establish relations with absolutely any person. This is a characteristic desired by all people working with people.
  • High intellect. Such a person is very easy and simple to learn the world around him and feel absolutely everything.
  • Ability to create. Without such a sense as understanding other people’s emotions, it is impossible to create what others need.
  • High spirituality. This is due to the highest degree of morality, honesty and sincerity inherent in this kind of person.

The negative sides of the empath:

  • Inability to control emotions. In such a state there is a probability of emotional burnout and even depression.
  • Dependence on the mood of others. The more negative emotions around, the worse a person with a high level of empathy feels.
  • Financial insolvency. If there are those around such people who directly or indirectly suffer from lack of money, they give away money to the detriment of their own needs.

Higher moral, spiritual values and readiness to help often lead to emotional burnout. If there are no faithful and unselfish close people around, empaths withdraw into themselves and turn into hermits. This is the highest extreme of such a state as empathy.

Classification of empathy in psychology

Everyone has empathy, but it manifests itself at different levels. Today there are only three, from the highest to the lowest.

High level

In this inherent level of empathy, one constantly projects the problems of others onto oneself, becoming hostage to the emotions of others. He forgives grievances and is incredibly generous. Such high matter often becomes the reason that such people begin to be used for selfish purposes.

At such a high level of empathy can not be artificially derived. It is characterized by a rich inner world, imagination, spirituality, high requirements for morality. Such people have a very shaky mental equilibrium, changeable mood. Because of a high sense of empathy, their life is tangibly spoiled. Such empaths are few and often suffer a lot.

Average level

Among all levels of empathy, this one is the most balanced. It is characterized by the individual’s highly tactful, understanding, and balanced behavior in society. He behaves in the highest degree of tactfulness, but often can judge others by their actions and deeds. Individuals with this kind of empathy are able to turn on defense mechanisms without sinking deep and long into someone else’s suffering.

Low level

Difficulties in making acquaintances and maintaining good social relations are inherent in this level. Not understanding not only other people’s emotions, but also one’s own, makes it difficult to communicate. A person with low empathy is characterized by two extremes – alienation or aggression. It is easy for such an individual to work alone. They are especially good at meticulous, demanding work that requires a high level of attention.

How does empathy emerge and develop?
How does empathy emerge and develop?

How does empathy emerge and develop?

Neurons such as mirror neurons are responsible for reflecting the emotional state and actions of others. They were discovered in the 1990s. The ability to empathize is associated with the work of the hypothalamus, the cingulate gyrus. Mirror neurons are triggered in the presence of such external “stimuli” as visualization, sound perception, and smell. Without them, projection becomes impossible.

Neurons such as visual neurons located in the gray matter of the midbrain, amygdala and cingulate gyrus are responsible for the response to pain. It is intensified in the presence of attachments. Such are kinship, friendship, and love. A high degree of empathy will be for acquaintances, not for those seen for the first time.

The famous researcher of ontogenesis M. Hoffman has distinguished four stages of formation. They prove that the ability to empathy is inherent and develops in childhood: These stages allow a child from infancy to adolescence to know the feelings of others from global understanding to real empathy. Parents play a tremendous role in the high awareness of such an emotion.

Thus, the environment directly influences the development of empathy. If this does not happen, empaths with high perception from birth without proper adult understanding can develop complexes. With a low one without a decent example, a child can grow up to be completely tactless, insensitive. Children try to grow up to be like their parents or their complete opposite.

How do you determine your level of empathy?

This emotion of empathy and sharing one’s feelings with others helps one to achieve great results in communication and even in the professional field. It is an ability that can be “taught. People who are haunted by communication failures need it.

Empathy can be measured. This allows you to do a variety of tests based on the division of a sense of empathy into three levels. There are many of them, but we will focus on the one that is widely recognized and disseminated in psychology.

Below is Mehrabian’s questionnaire, adapted by social soviet psychologists Yemelyanov and Orlov. In this form, it is used to this day for both adults and children. The technique consists of expressing “agreement” and “disagreement” next to a statement.

One point is awarded for each match from the key. If the answer does not match the table, nothing is awarded.

The total number of points received is summed up. To decipher the result, the following table is given, which allows you to know your empathy level.

In such responses one can trace the division of the assigned degree of empathy according to gender. Indeed, there are some differences. The highest male empath shows his empathy somewhat differently than the female, but the threshold of entry is lower for guys than for girls.

Ways to develop empathy

At the average level of empathy, there is no need to work on oneself. A higher empath must learn not to “spray” empathy and stop surrounding himself with things with negative emotions (melodramas, crime stories, world news, and so on).

Low empathy, on the other hand, needs to be developed. This is an emotion that helps build relationships with people. High levels are required by many professions. These are psychologists, doctors, and so on, but with some adjustment for defense mechanisms. They need to better understand what those around them feel.

Ways to develop empathy
Ways to develop empathy

Accepting Your Feelings and Emotions

It is impossible to master empathy without realizing and accepting one’s own feelings caused by various situations in life. Not everyone is highly sensitive. Those who have been taught since childhood to hide their emotions are the worst off. Read books, watch movies, listen to music and listen to your feelings. Such techniques reveal the higher strings of the soul.

Interacting with different people

High empathic abilities are achieved only by those who are able to understand not only the experiences of others who are similar to them, but also of complete opposites. They sense and recognize that a person can be disturbed and overcome by completely different emotions in situations that seem, even to an overwhelming number of individuals, trivial.

Such empaths are either born or become empaths by communicating with a large number of people and observing their reactions to this or that situation. The most difficult will be those who cannot get out of their own comfort zone. In this case, it is necessary to act gradually and expand the circle of communication by small steps.

Priority on live communication

Higher empaths are able to empathize when one of the stimuli is triggered. Others require a combination of hearing, visualization, and in some cases even touch to read the emotional background of others. To trigger empathy, one should abandon the format of correspondence or conversations by phone, and switch to communicating in person. Only with this approach is it possible to put oneself in other people’s shoes.

Active empathic listening

The easiest, but highly challenging for many, is the ability to listen. To master this ability, always challenge yourself to listen. Establish eye contact, don’t interrupt the storyteller, let him or her listen. In many situations, such empathy is valued more than others. Often, pouring out the soul, the interlocutor already feels relief and changes the attitude to the existing problem.

Reflection Technique

This method allows you to achieve the greatest empathy in the conversation with the person you are talking to. Mentally repeat their words, focusing on their emotions. Verbally and nonverbally demonstrate a supportive, sympathetic response.

The highest achievements can be achieved by such a person who is able to implement the technique of reversing roles with acting talent. Always try to mentally put yourself in the same situation and understand what feelings it causes.

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