Empathy is a Power of Three

Typically, when we think of empathy we can conjure various images and thoughts for what empathy looks like or who empathy applies to. Empathy is an entity of it’s own. Daniel Goleman suggests that empathy is not just one overarching spiritual practice, but a combination of three specific parts. Relationships, Goleman argues, are enhanced by mindful focus and development of each type of empathy.

Cognitive Empathy

Cognition is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses”. Empathizing cognitively means creating understanding through someone else’s mentality. Take this example: a partner once suffered severe abuse in their home. They may exhibit symptoms of abandonment or codependency. Without empathy it would be easy to harass them for their behaviors and demand them to change. Cognitive empathy is the ability to be placed in their position and imagine what it must be like to have experienced such trauma. Taking the time to develop this knowledge, better communication is developed.

Social Empathy

Social empathy is a matter of being present and practicing mindfulness. It is also a matter of intuition. Listening to a friend describe something they are going through, familiar feelings are stirred up inside. Immediately, what is within is recognized within another. Unless full attention is given without a personal agenda, it will be impossible to connect in this way. Connecting to someone through social empathy is the foundation of creating chemistry.

Empathic Concern

Distinguishing the actions of who is empathically concerned from who is not is simple. Someone who is concerned for another on an empathic level will be inspired in taking supportive initiative. Seeing the suffering in another’s life will have little to no effect unless empathic concern is present. Wanting to do and help another can easily slip into caretaking or codependent behaviors. There is a difference between concern and crossing the line. Caring enough to do something to help another person is a demonstration of empathy; going beyond personal capacity to endlessly care-take is problematic.


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