Emotions The 3 types of empathy that move the world

The 3 types of empathy that move the world


Cognitive empathy and emotional empathy allow us to get closer to and understand others, and give rise to the solidarity empathy that is at the basis of great human transformations. It is a natural force that drives us towards an empathetic, wise and caring society.

The empathy, the ability to put ourselves in the skin of another person, is the foundation of interpersonal relationships. It is key to personal well-being and the common good.

Empathy allows us to intuit what the other feels and thinks, to feel it and think about it ourselves, and to respond in solidarity.


  • Look at the person: their eyes, their gestures. Don’t just stay in what your words say. Really hear them, listening to the feeling that beats behind them. The key to emotional empathy is to delve into the other person’s feelings and motivations.
  • Share a sincere interest in what you convey. Falsehood is easy to spot. Whoever tries to show empathy without really feeling it, can end up causing the opposite effect: that the person feels cheated.
  • Reaffirming what the other person has said, trying to be as faithful as possible, helps them feel heard (“I think you are saying that “, “If I’m not mistaken, I think you feel that”).
  • Be aware of your own feelings and opinions, without confusing them with yours. If you have different opinions to share, express them after you’ve tried to understand the other person.
  • Remember that if you are with people with physical or emotional health problems, the greater the empathy they feel, the greater their ability to get ahead.


A proverb of the North American Indians said: “do not judge a person without having walked several kilometers with their moccasins.” Loafers are not to be taken literally, but it is clear that we cannot understand others without participating in their experience in some way. And the better we will understand your experience the more clarity we have about ours. To understand what others, feel, we first need to understand what we feel.

We can distinguish three types of empathy, as the psychologist Daniel Goleman does in his work, Focus (Kairós).

  • The cognitive empathy allows us to understand the mental state of another person, viewing the world from within its window.
  • The emotional empathy, meanwhile, lets us feel our own body an echo of the emotions felt by someone else. It is already highly developed in babies, who easily cry when they hear others cry, or smile when we smile at them.
  • Both cognitive empathy and emotional empathy bear fruit in the true social virtue of empathy, when we use it for the benefit of those around us. It is what we can more accurately call empathic solidarity (Goleman calls it empathic concern).


There is no ethics without empathy, but cognitive empathy and emotional empathy can have non-virtuous uses if empathic solidarity is absent. In their own way, there are criminals who use empathy to better manipulate their victims, just as advertisers use to better manipulate the victims of their ads.

On the other hand, good surgeons block their emotional empathy (it is not necessary for them to feel the pain that the patient feels) in favor of the empathic solidarity that is at the bottom of all medical practice.

One of the most on the rise complaints among patients is the lack of empathy from physicians. We have all gone through the unpleasant experience of being before a doctor who constantly looks at the computer screen and barely looks us in the eye.

Physicians who care empathetically about what their patients feel have been shown to make more accurate and effective diagnoses. In fact, empathy with patients is for many doctors the most rewarding part of their work.

“Greed is low; empathy on the rise ”. thus begins the book The Age of Empathy (Tusquets), by the primatologist Frans de Waal, who has shown how empathy is part of the habitual behavior of many primates.

Greed seems to have reached its maximum expansion, but until a few years ago it was seen as something natural, even healthy. Not now. It has lost its prestige, and more and more voices remind us that individual gain is meaningless if it does not simultaneously benefit society and the planet.


We have more and more scientific evidence about how empathy and trust play a key role in all kinds of social animals, ourselves included.

Our ethical capacity, far from being an artifice fallen from the sky, is a continuation of the social instincts that we share with other primates, as well as with dolphins and elephants. However, Frans de Waal affirms that the human being is a “bipolar ape”, because we are capable of being more altruistic than any other animal, but we are also capable of being much crueler. We have, as people, a potential for the best and for the worst. And at the current crossroads, our society can also evolve towards the better or regress towards the worse.

In fact, there are remarkable indications that human empathy has been spreading through the centuries. Thus, what we could call our ethical horizon has expanded: the one that encompasses all those we identify as our peers.

  • Rights have been extended. In ancient Athens, the ethical horizon only encompassed the free men born there: women, slaves and outsiders were not full citizens. Rights have been extended to all citizens, and in recent decades initiatives have gained strength that aspire to broaden the ethical horizon beyond what is human, affirming our responsibility towards animals, ecosystems or the entire earth.
  • Violence has been decreasing throughout history. Atrocities such as torture and slavery continue to exist, but before they were considered normal and today no one in their right mind is able to justify them in public. Attitudes have changed.
  • Greed is frowned upon. In 1922, Leo Tolstoy was convinced that the human being of the future “will be an extremely interesting and attractive creature, and that his psychology will be very different from ours.” Even a celebrated economist like John Maynard Keynes envisioned a future in which profit motives and greed would be considered “semi-pathological inclinations.”


Our best chance to build a better world is to transform ourselves into what Rifkin calls homo empathicus, extending our natural empathy to the whole of humanity and the biosphere.

As Erich Fromm pointed out half a century ago, “for the first time in history, the physical survival of the human species depends on a radical change in the human heart.” A new society, empathetic, wise and caring, struggles to be born. the greatest transformation of our time is that of the human heart, the greatest known source of clean and renewable energy.

Adapting an example given a century ago by the Finnish scientist Edvard Westermarck, just as we cannot help feeling pain if fire burns us, we cannot avoid feeling empathetic solidarity with what our friends feel. And not because our “selfish genes” invent convoluted tricks (as they would like complicated materialistic explanations), but because human goodness is something spontaneous.

MindFixes Staffhttp://mindfixes.com
MindFixes is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders and advocating, educating, and serving all people with mental and substance use conditions. MindFixes is determined to persevere, learn, grow, love and laugh through our wellness journey and we invite all to join.


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