Empathy

Three syllables, seven letters, not a very big word at all, or is it?

Empathy goes far beyond sympathy, which might be considered ‘feeling for’ someone. Empathy, instead, is ‘feeling with’ that person, through the use of imagination.

Being married for 25 years makes me think I’m empathetic. But when discussions turn into heated arguments who is responsible for showing empathy first? Isn’t she supposed to experience the same emotions, or feelings, that I’m experiencing, and vice versa? Is our empathy supposed to be in sync? Isn’t having empathy supposed to prevent arguments from escalating to the point where I feel like it’s useless to continue talking? Isn’t it better to not say anything if what you say isn’t being understood?

Maybe I need to use more imagination to get her to imagine what I’m feeling. And how can I do that when she says “I am using empathy, I put myself in your shoes, and it still wouldn’t bother me.” Does that mean that I’m not using my imagination to imagine what she’s feeling when she says she wouldn’t be bothered by how I’m feeling?

There are many definitions of empathy, the one I’m most familiar with is “you can’t understand my experiences until you walk a mile in my shoes.” Is that imaginative enough? Does it help me “understand the feelings, beliefs, hopes and experiences that make up their view of the world?” (Empathy Library) I thought I had a pretty good grasp on those things after 25 years of marriage. But I don’t.

I think there’s a lot more to empathy than three syllables and seven letters. Maybe my homo empathicus needs to be more dominant instead of my homo sapien.

8 thoughts on “Empathy

  1. Does difference in personalities , even with using empathy, mean you’ll change the way some feels the way they do? Empathy can and should be a great part of any type of relationship or friendship. Even if we understand or empathize with the other, does that mean we agree or respect the others perception of the situation? Walking in their shoes may not always make you believe the direction those shoes are heading?? ( unless to the beach, than they are ALWAYS right);)

  2. I think you have a great grasp of empathy but a difference of personalities that shows up and empathy doesn’t cure that. What you feel, good, bad and indifferent, and what she feels can certainly tried to be understood by empathy, but it may just come down to a difference in personalities in certain situations that determines the conflict?

  3. If I empathise with my husband after I have said something to hurt his feelings, wouldn’t it be easier to keep my big mouth shut in the first place. But, if what I said was in answer to something he did to upset me? Doesn’t that just make me long suffering and wondering why he doesn’t empathise with me?

    • Sometimes “keeping our big mouths shut in the first place” is an afterthought. Unfortunate as that may be, it happens. And yes, you(we) can sometimes end up wondering many many years.

  4. Empathy can’t be 100% all the time, and I think after 25 years you are doing well with an occasional “miss”, though I get that those can be doozies!

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