Empathy – Concept, examples and what is assertiveness

We explain what empathy is and why it is considered a value. Also, some examples of this ability and what is assertiveness.

Empathy is the ability to connect emotionally with others.

What is empathy?

When we talk about empathy we mean the human ability to connect emotionally with others, being able to perceive, recognize, share and understand the suffering, happiness or emotions of another. That is, it is an immediate and unconscious reaction, which does not happen through reason and intellect, and which leads us to participate affectively in the situation of another human being.

Empathy is a highly valued characteristic of human behavior, often linked to the ability to overcome class, culture or race differences to connect with the needs of the other. In that sense it is linked to compassion and altruism, and is opposed to selfishness and antipathy.

Although psychology does not have definitive concepts of empathy, it is usual to classify it into two categories, which are:

  • Affective empathy. Also called emotional empathy, it is based on emotional contagion, that is, the ability to become infected with the emotions that another person feels, and be affected by them. It can occur in two degrees of intensity:
    • Empathic concern. It occurs to the extent that we allocate part of our mental energy to think about the problems of another, whether or not we are in their presence.
    • Own affliction. The suffering of others is suffered “in the flesh”, that is, it takes a toll on one’s mood and even triggers similar physiological reactions.
  • Cognitive empathy. It depends on the ability to understand the posture of another, that is, to “put yourself in their shoes.” This can happen, again, in two ways:
    • Assumption of perspective. The tendency to adopt the points of view of another, or at least to understand them, reason them and consider them valid.
    • Fantasy. The projective capacity of the human mind to assume an identification with imaginary entities or characters, or to link with ideas of the order of the unreal.

Empathy as a value

The use of the term empathy in the various philosophical or psychological doctrines is recent, dating from the 20th century and as a consequence of a greater scientific understanding of the mental dimensions of the human being. Empathy however is linked to the more traditional notions of compassion and generosity, which have a very old religious and cultural background, in fact they are among the theological virtues of Christianity.

This means that empathy is born as a value, as a positive characteristic, which is commonly considered as a hint of goodness or purity. However, depending on the context, it could be linked to weakness, for example, in professional or life situations that require a cool head and strong emotional control.

Examples of empathy

Some everyday examples of empathy can be:

  • When watching a movie or reading a book, one identifies with a character more than with others, and can suffer various situations with him.
  • The feeling of pity or pain that is perceived in situations of injustice or suffering of others, whether live, watching documentaries, etc.
  • The ability to intercede in a dispute on behalf of a person because their arguments are believed to be valid or their point of view is correct.
  • When we disobey explicit rules to help a person in need, our pain seems more important to us than fidelity to the law.
  • Defend weak people from harassment or “bullying” situations.
  • When in the presence of a physical or bodily injury, for example, from an athlete, we “feel” as if we had suffered it ourselves.

Empathy and assertiveness

Empathy and assertiveness are terms in common use in contemporary psychology, despite the fact that they don’t mean the same. If empathy is the ability to connect with the emotions or thoughts of the other, assertiveness is rather linked to the ability to tell the other what you think frankly, honestly, but delicately, without hurting their feelings and, above all, everything, perceiving what is the best way to do it.

It is a communicative value, since assertive people achieve in their receptors a better disposition for understanding and acceptance, which requires a significant dose of empathy on the part of the issuer, in order to perceive which is the best way to communicate that truth that could be painful: when, how and where it is better to do it.