The Power of Empathy

Written by Dr. Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay


“You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.” ~John Steinbeck

The ability to see and feel the world from another person’s point of view is one of the most powerful human traits. Empathy allows you to transport yourself into another person and to experience the world through their eyes. Without empathy, we are empty vessels; nothing more than singular and isolated figures unable to connect with the world around us.

To better understand empathy, it is important to distinguish it from sympathy. Sympathy is the ability to understand another person’s situation from your point of view. It is a self-centered point of view that helps you understand what the other person is going through based on your own circumstances. You are able to acknowledge how the other person is feeling but, from a distance. You do not become emotionally connected to the person. For example, you are able to sympathize with someone having problems in their relationship because you have had problems in your own relationship. You do not feel what they are feeling but you have an understanding of what they are experiencing.

Empathy is a bit more complicated and abstract. In order to experience empathy, you must have the ability to identify the emotion and to place yourself in the other person’s position. The focus of empathy is self-less. You are experiencing another person’s emotional life by your ability to connect with them. In a sense, you are vicariously feeling the emotion. For example, through empathy, you are able to feel a stranger’s loss of a child, even if you are childless, by seeing the loss through their perspective. Through this connection, you are able to wear the emotional skin of another and essentially feel with them.

The inability to imagine yourself in someone else’s place in order to understand what they are feeling will result in difficulty in connecting with others. The lack of empathy is one of the traits shared by psychopaths and those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Also, recent research suggests that people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) may have difficulty with empathy. In a 2018 study from the University of Georgia, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that individuals with BPD have less brain activity in areas of the brain that are important for empathy.

This reduced activity may indicate that individuals with BPD have a more difficult time understanding and predicting the emotional experiences of others. However, further research is needed as there is an earlier conflicting study by Alan Krohn from 1974 that suggests individuals with BPD have a special form of empathy that gives them an enhanced sensitivity to the mental states of others.

The inability to imagine yourself in someone else’s place in order to understand what they are feeling will result in difficulty in connecting with others. In individuals with BPD, it may lead to difficulty in interpersonal relationships and an inability to maintain a stable and emotionally healthy relationship. The lack of empathy in people with NPD and psychopaths leads them to objectify others. Their inability to connect with others allows them to view them as objects to be used for their benefit.

Psychopaths are able to understand emotions but are not able to feel what others are feeling. They are able to mimic emotions to get what they want but overall they are only able to feel shallow emotions. They are not able to feel empathy, guilt, remorse, fear or love. To the psychopath, people exist only for their benefit. They will take what they want with charm, force or by attaching themselves to their victim like a parasite. The psychopath will destroy a person’s life without a second thought.

NPD exists on a continuum from mild to malignant. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), narcissists lack empathy. Individuals with NPD are able to feel emotions but due to early trauma and physiological deficits, they are not able to properly express them. Much like an empath, individuals with NPD have high emotional intelligence that allows them to identify how other people feel and think. Unlike an empath, a person with NPD uses this ability plus his lack of empathy to manipulate and exploit others. They primarily use people as a source of narcissistic supply to help them bolster their weak ego.

Empathy is a powerful source of human connection. Empathy adds to your emotional palate by allowing you to experience depths of emotions in your life that you would not otherwise experience. It allows you to feel how another person is feeling and also gives you the ability to experience another person’s perspective of the world. Without empathy, the world would be a dark place, prone to hatred of others who we perceive as different. It is important to remember that we are all essentially the same but simply have a different vantage point of the world. Our views may be different but we share common joys and fears. We all rejoice in the birth of a child and mourn the loss of a loved one in the same way.

Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic.

The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.

Kindly,
Dr. Perry


CREDENTIALS
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology


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120 responses to The Power of Empathy

  1. Maria says:

    I love this passage! “Empathy adds to your emotional palate by allowing you to experience depths of emotions in your life that you would not otherwise experience” so true! I love this post. Thank you Dr. Perry.

    Liked by 10 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      You are incorrect. Currently, there is no cure for psychopaths and narcissists. Further, research shows that there is a neurological component to these disorders so in fact, they may be born with the inclination towards these disorders.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. Sunshine24/7 says:

    I’m always happy to get the email notification that you posted something new. This is a very well written and excellent post. I also believe that empathy is vital for humanity. I believe younger generations have a deficit of it. Thank you.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post Dr. Perry. As a nurse you have to have empathy in doing your job. Being a nurse you either touch a life or a life touches yours. Have a good weekend.

    Liked by 8 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Hi Pam, beautifully said. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts✨

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Ladysag77 says:

    I’ve always been extremely interested in the human condition, our connection to one another and the inner workings of both. As an intuitive, emotional and physical empath, I understand what you wrote about here in an acute way. I only a few years ago was finally able to put a name to all of the extra sensory perceptions that I experience 24/7 by the assistance and guidance of my long term therapist. Understanding my gifts opened a whole new world for me because before that I thought I was plain crazy!! I had nobody to talk to about or gain advice from on the constant nagging “knowing” of other’s thoughts, feelings and physical ailments. I thought I was cursed. Turns out it’s just the opposite which is how I view our human behavior in general. The yin and yang of everything, the vantage point we choose to observe and judge the world around us. It’s absolutely fascinating to me. I read books on these subjects to expand my knowledge with the goal of helping to heal those who cross my path. Strangers seek me out to tell me their deepest darkest secrets. They always say, I don’t know why I’m telling you this. To which I reply with a smile and a simple, it’s ok….you can tell me. Empathy is something that is severely lacking in our society today. I recently wrote a few blog posts myself on the subject. I applaud you for always remaining introspective with your readers and inviting us to challenge our own thinking. I really enjoy your blog Dr. Perry, thank you ❤

    Liked by 10 people

  5. HillSide Traveler says:

    Thank you for another insightful post Dr. Perry. I had never thought about how empathy and sympathy differ. This was a very clear and easy to understand write up on the topic. I am going to set the intention to be more mindful of how empathic and I am towards others in hopes to be able to connect better. Thank you again Doc.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I am happy to hear this resonated with you and that you are setting such a positive intention. Thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a brilliant post. I used to believe that everyone was capable of empathy on some level and I am learning that that’s not always the case. Some simply are not capable of it. Empathy is one of things that connects us, that makes us relate to one another and I can’t help imagine was a disconnected and lonely place those without empathy must be in.

    When we see behaviour we don’t understand we try and put ourselves in that place but when certain behaviour is so cruel and painful, we will never comprehend it. Without empathy the world would be such a dark place to live. Really interesting post Dr Perry. 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

  7. CelineX says:

    Excellent post. I feel a bit sorry for individuals that cannot feel empathy. But, I would not want to meet these individuals. What a colorless world they must live in. Thank you for sharing these wonderfully written and insightful posts!

    Liked by 6 people

  8. Great content! I would love to read about methods how empaths can help themselves to get back to there own thoughts and feelings. If you dive too deep as an empaths in other people problems you barely can separate all those feelings and get easily depressed. Perhaps you have ideas about that issue? Would love to read more about that… as a very emphatic Person it’s so important to get back to your own life with your own feelings but if you feel deeply how your surrounding feels it not as easy as it might seem

    Liked by 6 people

  9. Chris says:

    Thank you for sharing your insights on this topic. Your clear explanation of the difference between empathy and sympathy was like a small puzzle piece that opened another window to deeper understanding of people around me. Empathy is a beautiful thing though at times it can be extremely painful.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I am happy to hear this post was helpful to you in some way. Thank you for commenting✨

      Liked by 2 people

  10. mindsoul11 says:

    Another wonderful post Dr. Perry. Loved reading it. Sympathy and empathy are often confused by many to be synonymns. You explained the borderline difference very accurately.

    Liked by 7 people

  11. Malia says:

    This was an excellent read. I always learn from you Dr. Perry. I very much appreciate the effort you put into sharing your professional thoughts. Please never stop writing!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      It is my pleasure to share. Thank you for reading and commenting✨

      Like

  12. Angela C. says:

    You did it again. You wrote about EXACTLY what I was just thinking about the other day. Wow. Thank you. A family member of mine is always giving me this “I feel so sorry for you” energy which is absurd because I am doing what I love and doing really well at it. It’s just not what she thought I would be doing with my life. She’s always telling me how much she cares but I think it’s been really about her this whole time. Definitely some food for thought for me to digest. You’re the best Dr. Perry!

    Liked by 7 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      It sounds like synchronicity is at work in your life. I am happy this resonated for you and that it came to you at an appropriate time. Thank you so much for your comment✨

      Liked by 1 person

  13. ManchesterMan says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post Dr. Perry. My favorite thing to hear is my email dinging letting me know you shared something again. Keep it up. Your blog keeps me sane! Love it!!🙏

    Liked by 6 people

  14. autismduniya says:

    A wonderfully informative read. Thank you for sharing! Yet again I learned a lot that is helpful. I suppose we must keep negotiating other people’s ability to empathize with our own capacity for the same.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. betulerbasi says:

    This is a great post! So, I write short stories, mostly. And what I have noticed so far is that when I can form empathy with the character better, when I can get into their shoes better, then they come out better. Likewise, when I can be my friend as I am listening to them, then I can help them better. Empathy in imagination, empathy in real life.

    Liked by 7 people

  16. jessijem1 says:

    Excellent explanation on the differences between a Psychopath and an NPD personality. I found this all very interesting and also useful. I am hopeful that this information will help me interact more successfully with others and discontinue my tendency to trust people too quickly, which has resulted in different levels of disappointment and even “heartbreak”.
    Sending a sincere thank you for your postings.
    JA

    Liked by 7 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts.I’m happing that you found this post helpful✨

      Liked by 2 people

  17. So interesting to me and made me think of my Father, my mom always said he was a narcissist. I think maybe because of her hurt feelings who knows but later on he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Which explained a lot of his behaviors. It took several years before my Father was diagnosed and by then the Alzheimers was so advanced that I had to place him in a care facility. Do you think people can be misdiagnosed as a narcissist but actually have something else going on?

    Liked by 6 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      A diagnosis of NPD should only be made by a licensed and qualified clinician to avoid any misdiagnoses. In today’s society the term “narcissist” is used too loosely to mean a person with a mental disorder✨

      Liked by 4 people

  18. JanBeek says:

    I appreciate this blog. It was very informative. I forwarded it to a friend who discussed this very issue of psychopathic behavior with me yesterday. Very timely! Thank you, Dr. Perry.

    Liked by 7 people

  19. SomewhereinCa says:

    Beautiful written. I appreciate the time and effort you put into your blog. Thank you🙏🏽

    Liked by 6 people

  20. Cleo S. says:

    Excellent and relevant post. Empathy for others is so important. Not only emotionally but we also need the ability to look at the world through eyes that are not our own. This allows us to accept and embrace other cultures that are not our own.

    Liked by 5 people

  21. Connecting with another on this level is so important. It allows us to grow. Feeling anothers heartbreak or loss seems to help that person. It is a selfless act that seems to happen naturally. This subject is so interesting to me. Its sad that someone could go through life without this feeling. Excellent article.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Indeed. It’s very sad. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts✨

      Liked by 2 people

  22. janetsm says:

    This was very interesting and timely. I suspect that someone I know has BPD, so this shed more light on the illness. Also, I just finished reading Alan Alda’s book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? It’s about communication and how true communication cannot take place without empathy.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Rayne says:

      I have BPD, and know quite a few others with this personality disorder. All of us have the problem of too MUCH empathy. We feel other’s emotions, and even take them on as our own which can be confusing. I have yet to meet someone with BPD who struggles with empathy.

      Liked by 2 people

  23. thecommutary says:

    I think about empathy all the time since becoming a parent because I felt it was lacking in my upbringing. It helps me connect to my children and has created a special understanding between us. It has helped me outside my family to become less judgmental of others, as I realize that people are trying their best to be happy and no one has it easy! Thank you for this insight.

    Liked by 5 people

  24. AnitaAnswers says:

    I am experiencing “your emotional life” by understanding your closing salutation-Kindly. This signature expresses volumes of connective insight. Thank you for inspiring goodness.

    Liked by 5 people

  25. libbylisbon says:

    My family fell victim to a narcissist or even psychopath. It took more than 10 years to realise how she worked. She told lies, embellished the truth until it was unrecognisable, used forms of manipulation like anonymous letters and had a huge sense of entitlement and self -aggrandisement. She craved praise and compliments.

    Ultimately her letter-writing was the undoing of her. As fewer people write letters these days – opting to use internet instead – and the fact that she didn’t use a computer at all, the suspicion entered my mind that it was she that was the author of the anonymous and quite awful letters. It was her use of an incorrect postcode for my brother, followed by the same incorrect postcode used a couple of days later on a Christmas card to him, that finally confirmed that she was indeed the author.

    She wanted to spend more time with my father who she felt was spending too much time with my brother, who was a recovering alcoholic. The letter’s sole purpose was to send him into a spiral of depression and maybe drink. All so she could get what she wanted.

    And still she managed to somehow justify why she did it and has never, not even to this day, apologised or admitted her selfish reasons for doing so. Until this point I had never thought such people existed. Devoid of empathy. And yet we had let her into our lives for at least a decade.

    Liked by 6 people

  26. Jennie says:

    Outstanding and important, because without empathy we can’t develop as a race of people. I feel this is fundamental, and therefore my responsibility as a preschool teacher to help young children learn, feel, and understand kindness and goodness to each other. This is huge!

    Liked by 6 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your insight Jennie. I agree! Teachers, much like parents, provide children with the first lessons on the importantance of empathy✨

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, we teachers do. In this busy world, unfortunately parents don’t always have the time to focus on these things. They may seem small at the moment, but they are big down the road. That’s why I make sure it’s important in my classroom. Helping parents is as important as teaching children.

        Liked by 4 people

  27. Being an Empath and a Highly Sensitive Person, I not only understand other people’s emotions, I actually feel them. I’ve found it very useful when interacting with my autistic grandson. The downside of being an Empath is being around negative people and, worse, psychic vampires. That can be very draining and painful.

    Our society and our world could definitely use more empathy. More kindness and basic respect.🌻

    Liked by 6 people

  28. Eri Hunt says:

    So insightful! I’ve always wondered why showing emotion is perceived as a weakness. If someone starts to cry about something or maybe get upset. I view emotion as being human and it’s always good to express how your feeling. Instead of ignoring it or keeping it inside your heart. I feel like sometimes it’s important to talk to someone who can understand how your feeling. Because it makes everything so complicated to articulate something to only feel worse than you did before, it’s hurtful.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I am happy to share what I have learned so far on my journey. Thank you for your comment✨

      Liked by 2 people

  29. kathy says:

    Lovely post. I enjoyed your explanation of the differences between sympathy and empathy. Thank you 🙏🏽

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Mannu K-Gill says:

    Thanks Dr. Perry for logically describing the empathy and sympathy which we really need to save the humanity. This world is going off the right track.

    Liked by 4 people

  31. It was an informative read. Especially keeping the emotional aspects in the fore, your article presented the standings of the people coming under various above-mentioned categories in a new light. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 5 people

  32. toprate222 says:

    Great article. I can attest: observing a person struggle with weight loss all their life, then seeing them finally hit their stride… It’s a big reason everybody loves an “underdog” story. We struggle along with that person, and their victory becomes our own.

    Empathy enables sharing the struggles and triumph.

    Liked by 4 people

      • Thank you for your article. One thing that I’ve have noticed about some psychopaths and narcissists throughout my life is that they are indeed highly sensitive people, and like you said they use this to manipulate and exploit. Much of the time people might see, for example, a narcissistic mother as a compassionate soul due to her ability to sympathize; however, when a difficult situation comes along and empathy is required, it can become clear to those around her that she is not the person that they thought that she was. I’ve noticed, though, that narcissists and sociopaths can be experts at picking out their circle of friends and family in a way where they are not required to show empathy and thus can get away with being a certain type of “good person” in everyone’s eyes but a few. Anyways, these are just my observations on the subject. In terms of empathy itself in everyday living, I think that it is essential if one wants to lead a truly fulfilling life.

        Liked by 2 people

  33. headstoheart says:

    I like this and the reading was useful..strangely enough I would consider myself an empath and also “diagnosed” with BPD.. I’m just glad I have the capacity for deep feeling.. thanks for this article 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  34. Thank you for making clear the distinction between sympathy and empathy. I have always wondered about the differences. This was an excellent post. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 4 people

  35. journeywithjuniorcom says:

    We’re constantly working with empathy here at Google, so this was a good read. Would you mind if I shared it with our trainer?

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Ron Bouchard says:

    Dr. Perry,
    Thank you for this post. I’ve enjoyed many of your articles. Moving from sympathy for another towards empathy seems to be a powerful way of expanding our love for others: Selfless love rather than selfish love which desires something from the person in exchange for loving them. Thank you for this poignant insight.
    Ron

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Hello Ron, I am happy to hear my writing resonates with you. Thank you for commenting✨

      Like

  37. ComplexWales says:

    Great post: Empathy is not very well understood despite it’s ubiquity and therefore sadly underrated. I particularly like the distinction between Psychopaths and Narcissists. In the past, I may have incorrectly called out a few nasty people as Psychopaths, when in fact they were Narcissists. I shall now go off and correct that 😉😇 Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

  38. cangetright says:

    Great post; I find that I empathize a lot, but it’s so intuitive that I still can’t understand their “shoes” well. I just somehow know they’re uncomfortable or what have you.

    Liked by 1 person

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  1. […] If you still are unable to understand why blackface is offensive, then I ask that you to approach this subject from an empathetic standpoint. Dr. Perry, Psychologist and founder of the MakeItUltra Blog, wrote a beautiful piece on what it means to be empathetic that can be found here. […]

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