Empathy Resources…

“Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It’s all through our own individual prisms.” ~ Sterling K. Brown

Please take a moment to watch the video below. It will provide you with hope and context for a wonderful new way forward. Be sure to complete your Journal of Grace in the next 7 days. God Bless, Team Grace


Selected Text From Grieve With Grace™…

Following, I have extracted a small portion of Chapter 8 of Grieve With Grace for your benefit. Enjoy!

It’s not that purpose cures grief, it’s that a heightened State of Grace leads to a heightened sense of purpose.

This means that stone by stone, we must build the archway of Grace over the valley of dread, and feelings of great loss.

Four stones are now laid in our archway.

Our bridge of Grace over the raging waters of grief is within sight.

You now know that your choice is continuing in grief for much longer than necessary, or rising above the valley of dread through Grace.

Who can say which of the stones is more important?

If you remove any, the bridge crumbles into ruin.

Neuroscientists will advise that it is Gratitude that affects our lives the most. Being grateful actually changes our brains.

Change the way we think and we change the way we live. Performance experts, coaches, mentors, and athletes will all tell you that life is a marathon and not a sprint.

You will fall.

But to even stay in the race you must pick yourself back up and keep running. Resilience is key.

I, for one, do not believe life is an endurance test. Yes, we will be judged in the end, but through the eyes of a loving God who will look at us with mercy. He will not look at us to see how perfectly we kept our bodies in shape, or the impact we made on the economy.

Those are trivial.

“He will judge us on our scars, proof that we lived and died in His service and glory. Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.” ~ William Barclay

A long time ago I asked my dear friend, Dr. John Edmund Haggai, Christian Statesman, what the fear of God actually meant. He chuckled and said, “It is misunderstood. God wants us to love him, not live in a constant state of fear or retribution. He wants us to become all He created us to be. My fear is that I did not live up to His expectations of me. But, as hard as I try I will never be the perfect image of Him, my creator, but I will try.”

No question, even if you believe in nothing you must admit that it is a wasted life when you do not live up to your full potential! To live to the fullest extent possible means you must become the Authentic you that emanates from deep within your soul. Life is too important, and much too short, to face it with the mask of deception.

To become the best you possible, through good times and bad, is all that is asked. In fact, to live fully is a requirement. Be real. Permit the man or woman looking back in the mirror at you each morning to become the pure essence of who you are, not a poser or fraud. To live your best life possible, you cannot “phone in” your performance.

Your, and my passion plays require us to become actors on the stage of life. This is the test of our creativity and authenticity combined. How will we act in all the roles we must play in order to insure a life of happiness, satisfaction, and significance against the backstory of unspeakable sorrow?

God wrote the script of our lives, and He knows how the story ends.

He does not expect us to remain in grief forever. He wants us, indeed commands us, to live in Grace.

While I might make the case that Creativity is the most important stone, experts in the field of human study would argue that it is our ability to Empathize that is critical to our success in life, and in a way, enables and empowers the other stones quite nicely.

The point is, if we do not create human connections, truly feel the calling to be a friend or confidant, to walk quietly in anothers’ shoes, who are we?

Creative for what?

Authentic to what end?

I have always been told that love and relationships are the most important things in life. I’m sure you’ve heard that too.

But I’m not sure that I have ever whole-heartedly accepted the undeniable truth of it—until now.

To love and be loved is why we exist. Losing the most important person in your life is all the proof you will ever need that it is true.

I know that now, in a deeply personal way. In the end, it is our last moments on earth that fully define our lives, and our humanity defines our right of passage to the hereafter.

In death, we find liberation and absolution through Grace. I am not here to argue the point, only to prove that Grace conquers Grief.

And that there is little reason to be locked in years of denial, anger, and depression.

For some, the journey to Grace will be easier than for others.

However, I am acutely aware that as Jan’s cancer progressed, I found myself transitioning from loving husband and patriarch of the family to an Empath. (Empaths are highly sensitive individuals, who have a keen ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. Psychologists may use the term empath to describe a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, often to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense.)

This, in my experience, was both frightening and rewarding at the same time. Day after day I watched the doctors, nurses, and staff perform up their abilities. I found that when I put myself in their shoes, I better understood what we faced. I could help them help us.

Without a doubt, I never met a doctor, nurse, or even orderly who was without feelings or true empathy. They all cared deeply and loved unconditionally.

I have always been the one in control, the one who is responsible for getting the results I want, and the one who will always find a way to make things happen. Sitting at the bedside of the most cherished person in my life, this was no longer the case.

I had to give over all control to God and the staff.

And every day they showed me the amazing gift of kindness and compassion during the most difficult time in our life. Never before was I so touched by the empathetic service and care others willingly gave to Jan and me. It permanently opened me up to a wider circle of love and care.

I now hope I too can follow in their footsteps.

During this ordeal I intentionally tried to put myself in their shoes, to better understand them as people, not just name tags on the job. I found that when I looked them in the eyes, then listened to their voice, I was able to hear them express what was in their heart. This became my daily challenge.

“The opposite of anger is not calmness, its empathy.” ~ Dr. Mehmet Oz

I understood the long hours they experienced, and the terrible working conditions under COVID.

Often I put myself alongside of them as they gave comfort to Jan, and I provided comfort for them—being kind and loving—not distrustful and critical as some of the other families behaved.

I have always lived a reasonably successful life, one might even say a blessed life. I have achieved most of the things I have set out to do and mostly stayed out of trouble in the process.

In the past, I found it hard to fully identify with the negative feelings that others might have in times of trouble or despair. I kept my emotional distance and would go so far as to imagine that, in some way, they must be somehow responsible for what happened to them.

Then I sat with Jan that day in the intensive care unit knowing there was nothing she had done and nothing I had done that was the cause of her deadly condition. Sitting there completely helpless, I was able to put myself on an even playing field with the patients to the left and to the right of us—and their stressed-out family and friends.

At first, I noticed how I had descended to their level of raw emotions, but then I realized that I had raised them up to mine.

We were all victims of horrible circumstances that forced us into this untenable reality. They too were angry, frustrated, and frightened. They too saw their family member dying before their eyes.

I could see the hopeless feeling in their body language. I could hear the desperation in their voices. And I felt their pain too.

I vowed to treat every single person I met with compassion and an extra dose of kindness.

It was this ordeal that convinced me that kindness, among all other virtues, was divine.

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” ~ Lao Tzu

Because Jan and I were bonded at the soul, it was easy for me to empathize with her deteriorating condition—which frightened me more than I can express even now. Never have I felt so deeply, so intimately, what another person felt when being by Jan’s side during this time. I felt her pain in every touch of her hand and every look into her eyes.

As she lay there struggling to breathe, my breath became short and erratic. As she moaned from pain in her sleep, I felt the discomfort and discouragement of her pain that never completely went away. When she said she was done and didn’t want to do this anymore, I knew exactly what she meant.

“Was this helping or hurting?” I wondered. “If I lose my edge, we will lose the war. Hang tough, be a man, fight to the end.” But the answer was never that clear to me.

Can you be empathetic and mentally tough at the same time?

Can you be empathetic, immersing yourself in the painful feelings of another, and at the same time be committed to finding a solution to the pain?

Could I be objective, truly capable of making the decisions that were required of me?

In my case I could, because I had to.

Every day the real, Authentic me had to show up.

With compassion, sympathy, and a heightened level of understanding of what it means to be human. The one person on Earth that I loved more than everything else—combined—was slowly walking the path towards her Heavenly Father. With Empathy, I was holding her hand in this walk as we did every day in life.

She knew, and I knew she knew, that her life would continue in the hereafter while my life continued here. It doesn’t get any more real than this. If you do not feel touched by an angel along this path, you will never be the same again.

You must feel that gentle touch of your guardian angel as you gaze into your loved one’s eyes, or you will walk the treacherous path alone. Not feeling, truly feeling is too frightening to even consider. Know that your guardian angel is here still, to guide you as you build your archway of Grace.

To hold your hands and comfort your heart as you mourn and begin your journey to joy. Empathy with Jan was that peaceful easy feeling we all hope for. Yes, we both suffered. But while our physical bodies were gasping for life, we knew that our walk together was far from over. No, we would not walk across the Golden Gate bridge together. But we will walk through the Golden Gates of heaven and spend eternity in Grace.

Writing the above words in my expression of Empathy caused me to stop just now and reflect on how Grateful I am for all the assistance Jan and I received from the loving and caring professionals who helped us live in hope and Grace until the very end. And Grateful for our close friends who were there during and after the process was unfolding.

Honest Gratitude through an unleashing of Empathy saved my life. It not only made my life bearable but a new life possible.

“In my view, the best of humanity is in our exercise of empathy and compassion. It’s when we challenge ourselves to walk in the shoes of someone whose pain or plight might seem so different than yours that it’s almost incomprehensible.” ~ Sarah McBride

My Gratitude to our family and friends was heightened by how much each empathized with Jan and me. The love we received from our family, friends, and everyone on the medical team that fought so heroically to save my beautiful wife was overwhelming.

I am forever in their debt. They were there walking in our shoes, feeling the pain of loss but also the love of a woman who deeply believed in both, personal responsibility, and the healing power of Grace.

In life and in death, Jan was far more empathetic and forgiving than I. She had a quality and depth of understanding that made her who she was: a powerfully compassionate and Graceful soul doing the best she could for all whom she touched.




To Grieve With Grace means you will heal With Grace.

By building Resilience with Gratitude and becoming Authentically you.

And with Creative Passion and Empathy, you will live a Graceful life on the other side of your tears. It is the key to a great life and is the essence of what it means to Grieve With Grace.

As I reflected on this Chapter it became obvious to me that the rest of my life will not become the best of my life. And that’s OK.

Jan and I lived a fabulous life together. I saved her and she saved me right back.

We truly invested our Time, Treasure, and Talent With Grace. Even in death, I feel she honored her oath, “Until death do us part.”

But what I now realize is that death is a spiritual construct, and because of our faith and belief, I know our souls will never be apart.

Each morning when I awaken I feel her. Is that Empathy? Who knows?

All I know for certain is that through Grace, I have become far more Grateful, Resilient, Authentic, Creative, and Empathetic. My thoughts now are with you and helping you Grieve With Grace as I have.

Jan would be happy with that as her legacy. As you cross over your own personal bridge of Grace please remember her and say a prayer that we all find peace on the other side of grief.

Why Not Build The Bridge of Grace Over The Raging Tears of Grief?

• Do you need to become more Empathetic?

• How strong is your Creative Passion right now?

• What life lesson has made you most Empathetic?


Grief or Grace is a choice. Choose wisely.



Moving Beyond Acceptance

The Healing Power of Empathy

As you just learned, Empathy is an incredibly important topic when trying to understand grief, and moving away from it.

To recap: Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Contemporary researchers often differentiate between two types of empathy: “Affective empathy” refers to the sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions; this can include mirroring what that person is feeling, or just feeling stressed when we detect another’s fear or anxiety.

“Cognitive empathy,” sometimes called “perspective taking,” refers to our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions. This is a vital issue that is backed by science and scripture. The ultimate proof of the power of empathy is this passage from John 3:16… “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

Now, a more personal view…

Below, you will find several credible (but easy to read) articles that will cement your understanding of the power of Empathy in your healing from a great loss.

Now, we would like to guide your thinking here, giving you some specific ideas for actions you can use immediately. You can answer them personally, or use them as discussion group questions. They have been crafted to condense all the big points into actionable bits of great information!

Remember, to build your bridge of Grace you must move beyond merely accepting your loss. You must also accept responsibility for life after grief.

Your Empathy Journal: Accepting Loss…

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Your Empathy Journal: Accepting Responsibility…

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Appendix Listings For The Curious & Committed…

As promised, we have included several valuable resources here to help you move from grief and move your life toward Grace. My goal is to give you the information and tools you need to overcome that “stuck” feeling you might find yourself in. In researching the field of advice to help you move from merely accepting grief vs. accepting your personal responsibility to grow forward, I discovered a wealth of information you might find very comforting or completely useless.

I understand.

My readers may want to understand the scientific aspects of this subject. Some will take my conclusions on the surface, others may want something of a professional bibliography. I decided to take a simple approach and give you a few select articles to help you better understand the practical science behind Grieve With Grace. Many of the articles are very complex and scholarly reviews of each of our 5 keywords.

I selected a few that I thought were easy to read yet give you the full flavor of the topic. If you are a professional Grief Counselor you will already have your own knowledge base, but will find clarity in the references below. If you are a person who is interested in becoming a Grace Counselor, the following will give you a platform for understanding.



Grace Counselor Resources


Article 1: What Is Empathy?

What Is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they are feeling. Empathy means that when you see another person suffering, such as after they’ve lost a loved one, you are able to instantly envision yourself going through that same experience and feel what they are going through.

Empathy Definition

Merriam-Webster defines empathy, in part, as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”1

While people can be well-attuned to their own feelings and emotions, getting into someone else’s head can be a bit more difficult. The ability to feel empathy allows people to “walk a mile in another’s shoes,” so to speak. It permits people to understand the emotions that others are feeling.

Signs of Empathy

For many, seeing another person in pain and responding with indifference or even outright hostility seems utterly incomprehensible. But the fact that some people do respond in such a way clearly demonstrates that empathy is not necessarily a universal response to the suffering of others. If you are wondering whether you are an empathetic person, here are some signs that show that you have this tendency:

  • You are good at really listening to what others have to say.
  • People often tell you about their problems.
  • You are good at picking up on how other people are feeling.
  • You often think about how other people feel.
  • Other people come to you for advice.
  • You often feel overwhelmed by tragic events.
  • You try to help others who are suffering.
  • You are good at telling when people aren’t being honest.
  • You sometimes feel drained or overwhelmed in social situations.
  • You care deeply about other people.
  • You find it difficult to set boundaries in your relationships.

Types of Empathy

There are several types of empathy that a person may experience. The three types of empathy are:

  • Affective empathy involves the ability to understand another person’s emotions and respond appropriately. Such emotional understanding may lead to someone feeling concerned for another person’s well-being, or it may lead to feelings of personal distress.
  • Somatic empathy involves having a physical reaction in response to what someone else is experiencing. People sometimes physically experience what another person is feeling. When you see someone else feeling embarrassed, for example, you might start to blush or have an upset stomach.
  • Cognitive empathy involves being able to understand another person’s mental state and what they might be thinking in response to the situation. This is related to what psychologists refer to as the theory of mind or thinking about what other people are thinking.

Empathy vs. Sympathy vs. Compassion

While sympathy and compassion are related to empathy, there are important differences. Compassion and sympathy are often thought to be more of a passive connection, while empathy generally involves a much more active attempt to understand another person.


Uses for Empathy

Being able to experience empathy has many beneficial uses.

  • Empathy allows you to build social connections with others. By understanding what people are thinking and feeling, you are able to respond appropriately in social situations. Research has shown that having social connections is important for both physical and psychological well-being.
  • Empathizing with others helps you learn to regulate your own emotionsEmotional regulation is important in that it allows you to manage what you are feeling, even in times of great stress, without becoming overwhelmed.
  • Empathy promotes helping behaviors. Not only are you more likely to engage in helpful behaviors when you feel empathy for other people, but other people are also more likely to help you when they experience empathy.

Potential Pitfalls of Empathy

Having a great deal of empathy makes you concerned for the well-being and happiness of others. It also means, however, that you can sometimes get overwhelmed, burned out, or even overstimulated from always thinking about other people’s emotions. This can lead to empathy fatigue.

Empathy fatigue refers to the exhaustion you might feel both emotionally and physically after repeatedly being exposed to stressful or traumatic events. You might also feel numb or powerless, isolate yourself, and have a lack of energy.

Empathy fatigue is a concern in certain situations, such as when acting as a caregiver. Studies also show that if healthcare workers can’t balance their feelings of empathy (affective empathy, in particular), it can result in compassion fatigue as well.

Other research has linked higher levels of empathy with a tendency toward emotional negativity, potentially increasing your risk of empathic distress. It can even affect your judgment, causing you to go against your morals based on the empathy you feel for someone else.

Impact of Empathy

Your ability to experience empathy can impact your relationships. Studies involving siblings have found that when empathy is high, siblings have less conflict and more warmth toward each other.6 In romantic relationships, having empathy increases your ability to extend forgiveness.

Not everyone experiences empathy in every situation. Some people may be more naturally empathetic in general, but people also tend to feel more empathetic toward some people and less so toward others. Some of the factors that play a role in this tendency include:

  • How you perceive the other person
  • How you attribute the other individual’s behaviors
  • What you blame for the other person’s predicament
  • Your past experiences and expectations

Research has found that there are gender differences in the experience and expression of empathy, although these findings are somewhat mixed. Women score higher on empathy tests, and studies suggest that women tend to feel more cognitive empathy than men.8

At the most basic level, there appear to be two main factors that contribute to the ability to experience empathy: genetics and socialization. Essentially, it boils down to the age-old relative contributions of nature and nurture.

Parents pass down genes that contribute to overall personality, including the propensity toward sympathy, empathy, and compassion. On the other hand, people are also socialized by their parents, peers, communities, and society. How people treat others, as well as how they feel about others, is often a reflection of the beliefs and values that were instilled at a very young age. 

Barriers to Empathy

Some people lack empathy and, therefore, aren’t able to understand what another person may be experiencing or feeling. This can result in behaviors that seem uncaring or sometimes even hurtful. For instance, people with low affective empathy have higher rates of cyberbullying.

A lack of empathy is also one of the defining characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder. Though, it is unclear whether this is due to a person with this disorder having no empathy at all or having more of a dysfunctional response to others. A few reasons why people sometimes lack empathy include cognitive biases, dehumanization, and victim-blaming.

Cognitive Biases

Sometimes the way people perceive the world around them is influenced by cognitive biases. For example, people often attribute other people’s failures to internal characteristics, while blaming their own shortcomings on external factors.

These biases can make it difficult to see all the factors that contribute to a situation. They also make it less likely that people will be able to see a situation from the perspective of another.


Many also fall victim to the trap of thinking that people who are different from them don’t feel and behave the same as they do. This is particularly common in cases when other people are physically distant.

For example, when they watch reports of a disaster or conflict in a foreign land, people might be less likely to feel empathy if they think that those who are suffering are fundamentally different from themselves.

Victim Blaming

Sometimes, when another person has suffered a terrible experience, people make the mistake of blaming the victim for their circumstances. This is the reason that victims of crimes are often asked what they might have done differently to prevent the crime. This tendency stems from the need to believe that the world is a fair and just place. It is the desire to believe that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get—and it can fool you into thinking that such terrible things could never happen to you.


Causes of Empathy

Human beings are certainly capable of selfish, even cruel, behavior. A quick scan of the news quickly reveals numerous unkind, selfish, and heinous actions. The question, then, is why don’t we all engage in such self-serving behavior all the time? What is it that causes us to feel another’s pain and respond with kindness?

The term empathy was first introduced in 1909 by psychologist Edward B. Titchener as a translation of the German term einfühlung (meaning “feeling into”). Several different theories have been proposed to explain empathy.

Neuroscientific Explanations

Studies have shown that specific areas of the brain play a role in how empathy is experienced. More recent approaches focus on the cognitive and neurological processes that lie behind empathy. Researchers have found that different regions of the brain play an important role in empathy, including the anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insula.

Research suggests that there are important neurobiological components to the experience of empathy. The activation of mirror neurons in the brain plays a part in the ability to mirror and mimic the emotional responses that people would feel if they were in similar situations.

Functional MRI research also indicates that an area of the brain known as the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) plays a critical role in the experience of empathy. Studies have found that people who have damage to this area of the brain often have difficulty recognizing emotions conveyed through facial expressions.

Emotional Explanations

Some of the earliest explorations into the topic of empathy centered on how feeling what others feel allows people to have a variety of emotional experiences. The philosopher Adam Smith suggested that it allows us to experience things that we might never otherwise be able to fully feel.

This can involve feeling empathy for both real people and imaginary characters. Experiencing empathy for fictional characters, for example, allows people to have a range of emotional experiences that might otherwise be impossible.

Prosocial Explanations

Sociologist Herbert Spencer proposed that empathy served an adaptive function and aided in the survival of the species. Empathy leads to helping behavior, which benefits social relationships. Humans are naturally social creatures. Things that aid in our relationships with other people benefit us as well.

When people experience empathy, they are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors that benefit other people. Things such as altruism and heroism are also connected to feeling empathy for others.

Tips for Practicing Empathy

Fortunately, empathy is a skill that you can learn and strengthen. If you would like to build your empathy skills, there are a few things that you can do:

  • Work on listening to people without interrupting
  • Pay attention to body language and other types of nonverbal communication
  • Try to understand people, even when you don’t agree with them
  • Ask people questions to learn more about them and their lives
  • Imagine yourself in another person’s shoes
  • Strengthen your connection with others to learn more about how they feel
  • Seek to identify biases you may have and how they affect your empathy for others
  • Look for ways in which you are similar to others versus focusing on differences
  • Be willing to be vulnerable, opening up about how you feel
  • Engage in new experiences, giving you better insight into how others in that situation may feel
  • Get involved in organizations that push for social change

A Word From Verywell

While empathy might be lacking in some, most people are able to empathize with others in a variety of situations. This ability to see things from another person’s perspective and empathize with another’s emotions plays an important role in our social lives. Empathy allows us to understand others and, quite often, compels us to take action to relieve another person’s suffering.



Article 2: The Three Kinds of Empathy: Emotional, Cognitive, Compassionate

Do you know what the three kinds of empathy are and how to express them? Empathy is a must-learn skill that brings more ease and understanding to your life and relationships!

When a student tells you they’re overwhelmed or your partner is working from home and is stressing—do you respond with empathy? Or do you react? Or how would you respond if your partner expressed fear, sadness, and anger telling you they lost their job, and it was right after you dipped into savings to build an addition to your house? The ideal would be to respond thoughtfully and empathetically, but many of us react.

The thing is, not all empathy looks and feels the same; just like not all sadness is the same; or happiness; or fear.

You may have questions like: “Can a person have too much empathy?” Or “If I give empathy, will I take on the other person’s emotions? Or “How can I give empathy without the person getting even more emotional? In this blog, we’re going to cover the different kinds of empathy so you can choose what is appropriate for different relationships and situations.

Empathy Means to Lean In with Compassion

This is a topic we’re impassioned about at Heartmanity, especially because empathy is so integral to emotional intelligence (EQ), being compassionate, and connecting with the people you love and work with.

Think about the happiness of a weekend off work versus the joy of a wedding or the twisted pleasure of Schadenfreude, German for the enjoyment of another’s misfortune.

Empathy has different facets, too. In fact, empathy also comes from a German word, Einfühlung, meaning “feeling in.” And just as there are many ways to feel; there are multiple ways to experience empathy.

So let’s begin with the basics: “What is the definition of empathy?” 

From an emotional researcher’s standpoint, it’s “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” From a human and vulnerability perspective and according to Brené Brown, “Empathy is communicating that incredible healing message of ‘You’re not alone.'”

The three types of empathy that psychologists have defined are: Cognitive, Emotional, and Compassionate.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that empathy is a relatively new idea and is still being defined by social and cognitive psychologists. As The Atlantic’s article “A Short History of Empathy” points out: “The term’s only been around for about a century—but over the course of its existence, its meaning has continually changed.” If empathy is a murky concept to you, read our piece “What is Empathy and Why is it important?

Empathy IS important. And the type of empathy that you express or experience matters as well.

Cognitive, Emotional, and Compassionate empathy all manifest in different ways. Reflecting on your own experiences at home, at the office, or with friends and family, it probably won’t take long for you to notice the different types in your own life. There are plentiful examples on TV, in politics, and in pop culture to draw from as well; however, many of them exhibit a lack of emotional intelligence, too. See if you can tell the difference between when a person is responding with empathy or not.

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy definition: “Simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking” ~Daniel Goleman, renowned psychologist and author of the 1995 book Emotional Intelligence.

What it’s concerned with: Thought, understanding, intellect.

Benefits: Helps in negotiations, motivating other people, understanding diverse viewpoints, and is ideal for virtual meetings.

Pitfalls: Can be disconnected from or ignore deep emotions; doesn’t put you in another’s shoes in a felt sense.

Cognitivempathy is about thought as much as emotion. It is defined by knowing, understanding, or comprehending on an intellectual level. As most of us know, to understand sadness is not the same thing as feeling sad.

I suspect that if I came home upset about losing a job, my partner would respond this way. In the same way that a doctor can look at a sick patient and try to understand the parts of the illness rather than dive into the patient’s emotions—cognitive empathy responds to a problem with brainpower. An engineer turns his brain into high gear in stressful situations. You could say it’s the way some people are wired, to understand emotions in terms of why they make sense for humans in certain situations.

This type of empathy can be a huge asset in circumstances where you need to “get inside another person’s head” or interact with tact and understanding. We talk about using cognitive empathy as a leader in our blog “Emotional Intelligence and Empathy in Leadership.

On the other hand, cognitive empathy is, in some ways, like mixing apples and oranges. To truly understand another person’s feelings, don’t you, in some sense, have to be able to feel them yourself? Therefore, those who respond with Cognitive Empathy can risk seeming cold or too detached. Related topic: “What Is Emotional Intelligence?”

Emotional Empathy

Emotional empathy definition: “when you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious.” ~Daniel Goleman

What it’s concerned with: feelings, physical sensation, and mirror neurons in the brain.

Benefits: Helps in close interpersonal relationships and careers like coaching, marketing, management, and HR.

Pitfalls: Can be overwhelming, or inappropriate in certain circumstances.

Emotional Empathy, just like it sounds, involves directly feeling the emotions that another person is feeling. You’ve probably heard of the term “empath,” meaning a person with the ability to fully take on the emotional and mental state of another. The quote that comes to mind is: “I have a lot of feelings.”

This type of response might seem disconnected from the brain and thinking, but as Goldman points out, emotional empathy is actually deeply rooted in a human’s mirror neurons. All animals have neurons that fire in a certain way when they see another animal acting, making them relate to that action in their own body and brain. Emotional empathy does exactly that with the feelings someone experiences in reaction to a situation.

When your partner—or anyone you deeply love—comes to you in tears, it’s a natural response to feel that pull on your heartstrings. Like crying at a wedding or cringing when someone stubs their toe, it’s a deep-seated, gut reaction that often feels like a visceral human response. Connecting with another human in this way is intimate and can form a strong bond.

Like Cognitive Empathy, Emotional Empathy has its flip side. “One downside of emotional empathy occurs when people lack the ability to manage their own distressing emotions,” writes Goleman. “[This] can be seen in the psychological exhaustion that leads to burnout.” Feeling too much can make even small interactions overwhelming.

For real-life examples of each kind of empathy, see “How to Talk to Someone with Empathy—and What to Avoid!”

Compassionate Empathy

Empathy definition: “With this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, but are spontaneously moved to help, if needed.” ~Daniel Goleman

What it’s concerned with: Intellect, emotion, and action.

Benefits: Considers the whole person.

Pitfalls: Few—this is the type of empathy that we’re most often striving for!

The majority of the time, Compassionate Empathy is ideal. Cognitive Empathy may be fitting for the workplace,  monetary negotiations, or surgeon’s offices; Emotional Empathy may be the first response with children and for our loved ones; Compassionate Empathy strikes a powerful balance of the two. In fact, it could even be used today for your teen doing hours of schoolwork online and feeling overwhelmed during the school year or bored in the summer.

Feelings of the heart and thoughts of the brain are not opposites. In fact, they’re intricately connected.

When your employee or loved one comes to you with a problem or in tears, you want to understand why they are upset and you also want to provide comfort by sharing in their emotional experience and hopefully helping the reintegration and healing. It’s a lot to handle!

Many of us skew to one side or the other: more thinking or more feeling; more fixing or more commiserating.

Compassionate Empathy is taking the middle ground and using your emotional intelligence to effectively respond to the situation with loving detachment.

We don’t get sucked in and take on the person’s burden or feeling. We balance mindfulness with compassionate caring and could be considered compassion when expressed genuinely.

Does your friend or spouse just need to be held? Does the situation call for quick action? Or sometimes just a silent presence so they’re not feeling alone in their pain.

Without either becoming overwhelmed by sadness or trying to fix things with logistics, compassion brings a mindful touch to tough situations.

The above three types of empathy are defined as foundational. However, you may hear other names, references, and uses of empathy, such as affective empathy (another way of identifying emotional empathy), somatic empathy (when we physically feel in our bodies anothers’ experience), evaluative empathy, and perceptual empathy, which are forms of cognitive empathy. Typically, these are unnecessary variances for most people and everyday use so we have not included them in this blog.Being Authentic When Giving Empathy

When I think of empathy, I often think of a teeter-totter. Go too far into another person’s psyche and you risk losing yourself. Avoid being authentically interested in the person’s experience, and you are missing out on an integral part of the human experience. Is too much feeling inappropriate? Too little, hurtful?

The truth is, not all situations are the same just like not all types of empathy are the same.

Can you think of one example of each type of empathy in your own life? Probably more than one. Hopefully, you’ve encountered compassionate empathy at some point!

Any type of empathy takes emotional fitness and practice—just like any balancing act. When you find that sweet spot where you can empathize effectively, whether navigating a workplace hurdle or comforting a loved one, it is absolutely worth the work.

If you’d like to learn more about empathy, it’s one of Heartmanity’s specialties!
Try out our popular workbook, Real Empathy, Real Solutions: 4 Keys to Unlocking the Power of Empathy.



Article 3: How to Be More Empathetic

More and more, we live in bubbles. Most of us are surrounded by people who look like us, vote like us, earn like us, spend money like us, have educations like us and worship like us. The result is an empathy deficit, and it’s at the root of many of our biggest problems. It’s because of how homogeneous people’s social circles have become, and also because humans naturally hold biases. But researchers have discovered that far from being an immutable trait, empathy can be developed. There are steps people can take to acknowledge their biases and to move beyond their own worldviews to try to understand those held by other people. Bonus: You’ll make new friends along the way.


Practice Empathy

While some people are naturally more empathetic, there are exercises that anyone can do to improve. 

So what is empathy? It’s understanding how others feel and being compassionate toward them. It happens when two parts of the brain work together, neuroscientists say — the emotional center perceives the feelings of others and the cognitive center tries to understand why they feel that way and how we can be helpful to them. 

Research has shown that empathy makes people better managers and workers, and better family members and friends. But it’s bigger than just its personal effect. We’re all in this together, and researchers say that connection and compassion are crucial to a sustainable and humane future. 

Some people are more naturally empathetic than others, but there are easy, evidenced-based exercises that anyone can do to increase their empathy. 

Talk to New People

Trying to imagine how someone else feels is often not enough, researchers have found. Luckily, the solution is simple: Ask them. “For me, the core of empathy is curiosity,” said Jodi Halpern, a psychiatrist and bioethics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies empathy. “It’s what is another person’s life actually like in its particulars?”

Try It:

  • Start conversations with strangers or invite a colleague or neighbor you don’t know well to lunch. Go beyond small talk – ask them how they’re doing and what their daily life is like.
  • Follow people on social media with different backgrounds than you have (different race, religion or political persuasion). 
  • Put away your phone and other screens when you’re having conversations, even with the people you see every day, so you can fully listen and notice their facial expressions and gestures. 

Try Out Someone Else’s Life

Don’t just stand in someone else’s shoes, as the saying goes, but take a walk in them, said Helen Riess, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and chief scientist of Empathetics, which provides empathy training for health care practitioners.

  • Attend someone else’s church, mosque, synagogue or other house of worship for a few weeks while they attend yours, or visit a village in a developing country and volunteer. Spend time in a new neighborhood, or strike up a conversation with a homeless person in your community. 
  • If someone’s behavior is bothersome, think about why. If it’s your teenager, for instance, start by acknowledging that he might feel stressed, but go further: Consider what it’s like to live his daily life – what his bus ride is like, how much homework he has and how much sleep he gets.  

Join Forces for a Shared Cause

Working on a project with other people reinforces everyone’s individual expertise and humanity, and minimizes the differences that can divide people, said Rachel Godsil, a law professor at Rutgers and co-founder of the Perception Institute, which researches how humans form biases and offers workshops on how to overcome them. 

  • Work on a community garden.
  • Do political organizing.
  • Join a church committee.
  • If you have experienced grief or loss, join with others who have experienced something similar.

“My magic potion would be for communities to have meaningful, heartfelt projects that speak to their grief and vulnerabilities,” Dr. Halpern said. 

For example, she found in her research that when women from the former Yugoslavia joined together across ethnic groups to help find the missing bodies of family members, they came to care for and respect each other despite their ethnic groups’ conflicts. Similarly, Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost an immediate family member to the violence there come together in a group called Parents Circle – Families Forum


Admit You’re Biased

We’re all biased. Acknowledging that is the first step. The second step is taking action to overcome it.

I’ll start: I came to researching and writing this piece with my own experiences, privileges and biases. I tried to reflect many different perspectives here, but I most certainly missed some. As you read, try to consider your experiences and take from this what’s most relevant to you. 

Be Honest With Yourself

“Bias is a natural part of the human condition,” said Erin L. Thomas, a partner at Paradigm, which helps organizations with diversity and inclusion strategies. “This is adaptive for us to take mental shortcuts and make conclusions about the people around us. Actively working to combat that is what matters.”

Again, Talking to People Helps

It can be as simple as having lunch with a colleague and asking about their routines, she said. Maybe you’ll learn that they leave early to care for a family member or drive a different commute because they’re afraid of interacting with police. Perhaps they never feel heard in meetings, or struggle to find a time and place to pump breast milk during the day. 

“The more you hear about the things that other folks have to factor into their day, the more you recognize the things you don’t have to pay attention to,” Ms. Thomas said. 

Stand Up for Others

Empathy should drive us to act compassionately toward others.

Take Action

The next step, after acknowledging your privileges, is to put them to use on behalf of groups who don’t have them.

Some ways to do this: 

  • Donate money to causes that help people in need or attend a rally in support of them. 
  • Speak up when someone makes a discriminatory comment or interrupts. This is especially important to do when you’re not part of the community being undermined, Ms. Thomas said.
    • If someone interrupts, you could say: “I think she was still in the middle of sharing her idea, let’s make sure she has a chance to finish before we move on.”
    • If someone makes an offensive joke or disparaging comment, simply say: “What you just said is offensive.” 

Amplify Other Voices

Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is step aside and create a space for those outside your group to speak. Some ways to do this:

  • If you want to share an article online, find one written by a member of an underrepresented group or a member of the community that the article is about.
  • If you hear someone ignore or take credit for someone else’s idea, you could say: “She has a point, let’s discuss it.”

It’s Not About You

  • Remember that you don’t need to understand everything about someone to make them feel respected.
  • Advocate for things that will help others, even if they don’t directly affect you, like pushing for paid parental leave even if you’re not a parent, or helping to organize an event for LGBTQ colleagues even if you’re not part of that community.
  • Don’t make assumptions about people based on what your life is like. When you’re asking colleagues about their lives, don’t assume, for instance, that they have an opposite-sex partner, three healthy children, or a beautiful, spacious home. 
  • In workplaces, women and people of color do more of what researchers call office housework – unglamorous chores like getting coffee for a meeting or arranging a colleague’s goodbye party. Recognize when this happens, and if you’re not part of one of these groups, take on these tasks and recruit others to as well.

Lose Yourself in Fiction

Reading literary fiction requires people to enter characters’ lives and minds – and by doing so, it increases people’s capacity to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings, researchers at the New School have found. People who read literary fiction performed better on tests of empathy and emotional intelligence afterward. 

“You enter the thoughts, heart and mind of another person who’s not like you, and it really does break down barriers,” said Dr. Riess, whose book, “The Empathy Effect: Seven Neuroscience-Based Keys for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work and Connect Across Difference” came out in November. 

Choose novels with narrators who have lives and backgrounds unlike yours, or who live in a different place or time. Choose diverse authors, too.

Learn From Nonfiction

Read about the lives, struggles and fights against oppression of different groups of people — in history books and essay collections and newspapers. 

Expand Your Research

Read and watch first-person accounts of the experiences of others in magazines and newspapers, on social media and in podcasts and documentaries. 

Raise Empathetic Kids

Children can learn empathy. The first step is modeling it yourself.

Teach Them Empathy

Children show empathy from the time they’re babies, when they mimic facial expressions and learn to smile back at people. It takes longer for them to learn to consider other people’s perspectives (as is clear to anyone who’s seen toddlers battle over sharing toys)! But there are ways parents and caregivers can teach empathy.

  • Ask children what they think characters in books or during imaginative play are feeling, based on their facial expressions or what’s happening to them in the story.
  • Don’t instruct your kid to say sorry. It’s a natural instinct, but experts say it can backfire because it doesn’t require them to genuinely think about the other person’s feelings. Instead, ask questions like: “How do you think he’s feeling? What could you do to help him feel better?”
  • Help your children name their emotions. When they’re crying in frustration or anger, or don’t want bedtime to come or school to start, give them words for their feelings. Express your feelings in front of them, too, using the full range of emotional vocabulary.
  • When you’re discussing problems they’re having, like with a sibling or friend at school, ask them to consider the other person’s perspective. 

Model empathy and compassion by bringing soup to a friend who’s going through a hard time, volunteering as a family in your community or bringing a welcome bouquet to a new family at school.  

Read to Them

Just like novels do for adults, children’s books take them into characters’ lives, hearts and minds. The first step is choosing books with a diverse cast of characters – including children of color, strong female protagonists and children with disabilities – so children can see characters they identify with and those they don’t. 

Follow some of the ground rules at the Change My View subreddit: 

  • Don’t be rude or hostile.
  • Don’t create echo chambers: Express opposing views, and explain the reasoning behind them.
  • Engage in the conversation: Don’t state your position and walk away.
  • If no one has changed their mind after three rounds of going back and forth, consider agreeing to disagree.
  • If you change your mind, be proud of it and tell people you did so. 

Learn to Listen

Truly listening to someone requires active engagement. Here are some tips from Dr. Riess, the Harvard psychiatrist:

  • Use your body language to show that you’re open to listening: uncross your arms, lean slightly forward, make eye contact. 
  • Pay close attention to the speaker’s facial expressions and body language, which can convey more emotions than their words. 
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Put away your phone. 

Remember: It Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

We’re all humans, and we all have the natural desire to connect with one another. Building our empathy, considering the perspectives of others and opening ourselves to uncomfortable conversations can make that happen.  “We have made it fraught, but it doesn’t have to be,” said Ms. Godsil, the Rutgers law professor. “Once it’s the norm, it’s wildly freeing for everyone.”