Last time we talked about one form of empathy (Cognitive Empathy), which helps bring perspective to situations where care is required. It requires thoughtful reflection and the gathering of facts as another person tells their story. People are helped as they realize their situation is understood and given clarity. Today, I will speak of a second form of empathy: Feeling.
Feeling Empathy brings a strong emotional component to the equation, coming alongside someone else in a way where emotions are almost contagious. Some have referred to this skill as Emotional empathy. Those with Feeling empathy quickly mirror the emotions (or expected emotions) of those who need their help. It’s evident in their verbal responses in time and tone, and they are ready with non-verbal compassion as well. When I think of Feeling Empathy I have one person in mind who specializes in this. No one could ever accuse this person of being anything but caring and sympathetic. They seem to embody this scriptural admonition: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12). I can learn a lot from those who lead with Feeling Empathy, because while I am cognitively putting pieces together and connecting dots, I often fail to demonstrate that I am genuinely entering into their experience. One tool that has helped me become a better Feeling empathizer has been to learn the phrase, “That must be…”. As in “That must be horrifying!” Or, “That must make you feel scared.”
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
What’s not to love with Feeling Empathy? Sometimes Feeling empathizers jump the gun and assume they have the emotional understanding of the other’s condition. They mirror too quickly, and they’d do well to slow down a little so they can make a more accurate appraisal of the situation. Feeling empathizers need to know that cognition and response matter as well.
Coming next week: Responsive Empathy