When you think of empathy, you probably imagine “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” or think “I understand you.” You probably see it as understanding what someone else is thinking or feeling what they are feeling.
But, the truth is that stepping into their place or imagining what they are thinking or feeling may elicit pity or sympathy, not necessarily feelings of empathy. When you see them suffering as their loved one passed away, you might feel for them—you may feel sympathy and compassion for their painful loss.
However, you might not feel with them—you might not understand what their sadness feels like. Or, you may share their sad feelings, but interpret them from your own perspective. You may think how you’d feel after such a personal loss, not how they are truly feeling.
You should imagine you are them in their situation, not you in their situation. As you are two different people, you probably need help to understand how they are feeling since imagining what their life is like isn’t the same as really experiencing what it is like.
You should check in and ask if you are correct in your interpretation of their feelings. You should analyze the broader situation.
In short, experiencing empathy involves sharing emotional and physical feelings while being aware that they belong to someone else; not becoming overwhelmed while doing so; imagining what their experience is without trying to impose your own interpretations; and taking in the context of their life in a few minutes. This means that it’s a complex state, which takes many abilities to bring it together.
Being an empath is a process that plays an important role in your relationships, including partnerships, friendships, and parental or romantic relationships. It may promote trust, resulting in honest and open communication and facilitating resolution of interpersonal conflicts or constructive change.