Sunday, October 30, 2011

Empathy comes in different flavours

Empathy and Evolution, a blogpost spotted today. It discusses various flavours of empathy, its expression during development and outward into the social sphere.

The sorting into various flavours interested me most.
Psychologists distinguish two main components of empathy: cognitive empathy (knowing another person’s thoughts and beliefs) and affective empathy (knowing another person’s feelings and emotions).
The degree of empathy we have for others can be found on a spectrum. At lower ends, empathy only requires that we are aware of other people’s thoughts and feelings. But at higher ends of the spectrum, empathy may include actually experiencing one’s situation as if it was our own.
Some experts on empathy, such as emotion researcher Paul Ekman, say that these higher levels of empathy lead to a third kind of empathy: compassionate empathy, where we are so attuned to the thoughts and feelings of others that we are driven to alleviate their pain and suffering through kindness and charity.

 My bold. What if one has off the chart extreme empathy in one flavour, and not much in another? I feel other peoples' pain all the time. I've had to build strong boundaries in myself, around my insular cortex, in order to do what I have to do in life, which is to treat it in other people.

When I say, "have to", I don't mean that someone held a gun to my head and forced me into this line of work; rather, I mean, I was driven into it for completely self-contained reasons, chief among them to learn as much as I could about pain in order to be ready for when and if I ever needed to combat it in myself. (A situation in which I eventually found myself, and successfully won, so it all paid off.)

This coming week, I'll fly to Winnipeg to attend a workshop by Michael Sullivan, on progressive goal attainment. This involves careful attention to the "cognitive empathy" side of the scale, learning the thoughts and beliefs of another, helping them separate those from their feelings and emotions. It's for sure outside manual therapy kinds of "helping", but I think I'm ready to learn more about it and weave it in. Some might wonder what took me so long. To that, all I'd be able to answer would be, "better late than never" and, "I'm a late bloomer".

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