Altruism, empathy and compassion are the need of the hour. Given the spate of incidents highlighting the rising cases of hate crimes, mental illnesses, inequality and a troubled political scenarios all over the globe, it becomes all the more important.
Former US President Barak Obama has stated that an ‘empathy deficit’ was an even bigger concern than federal deficit. But the research sector around these vital components of human nature is still not developed enough.
Human cooperation has its base in acts of empathy that behaves as social glue, helping the process of evolution. The digital age has created a world which connects us to each other in the virtual world but we are losing touch with each other in the real one.
However, this lack of research into the concept of empathy is gradually receding, especially with the discovery of ‘mirror neurons’ and development of virtual reality.
When we talk of empathy, it is broadly divided into two types:
1. Affective Empathy
2. Cognitive Empathy
Apart from these, we could also bring in more types by combining Western psychology with Eastern philosophy. The resulting categories are:
1. Somatic Empathy
2. Spiritual Empathy
Empathy can be found in different ways and concentrations in different people depending on their growth (whether stunted or normal) and development in their genetic makeup, psyche and societal conditioning.
1. Affective Empathy
Also known as emotional empathy, Affective empathy is our capability to respond to another’s person emotional state in an apt manner.
‘Empath’ is a new term introduced by the fast growing new-age spirituality and is used to describe people with high emotional intelligence. Such people are extremely receptive to the environment they are in; the energy of an area affects them. This sometimes makes them face difficulties in maintaining boundaries.
Such people experience a phenomenon called ‘emotional contagion’ wherein they have trouble distinguishing between their own emotions and others.
This happens due to the need they feel to help others and heal them. These people might suffer from rejection, abandonment and loss. People suffering from Bipolar and borderline disorders are said to possess high emotional empathy and low cognitive empathy.
2. Cognitive empathy
This is also known as intellectual empathy or taking perspective. Such intelligence in a person makes them stand in another’s shoes to view a situation from another’s side. This is an objective and rational way of decision making.
These people recognize emotions, motivations and thoughts of other people but don’t feel it like emotional empaths do. Such a trait is helpful for conflict resolutions.
Narcissists and psychopaths are known to possess high cognitive empathy and low affective empathy. This is useful to their behavior as they utilize their emotional capacity to emotionally abuse and manipulate others.
One way to prevent yourself from becoming so is by getting emotionally responsible and opening your hearts to feel trust, emotional intimacy and love.
3. Somatic Empathy
Somatic empathy shows our connection to our body and its functions. It is more about physical reality and less about emotional one. The main principle it follows is the ‘Principle of Vitalism’ which is a method used to bridge the gap between the mind and the body.
With the advent of time, we have developed in medical terms too, thus suppressing whatever ailment we suffer from. The problem is that by doing this we ignore the root psychological cause which never gets treated.
The body will rebel against such temporary fixes. They do nothing except mask the actual cause and simply delay the onslaught of trouble. True vitality of the body comes from within.
4. Spiritual Empathy
The universe has a consciousness and a natural design. The purpose of spiritual empathy is to form a direct connection to this consciousness. Another name for it is ‘enlightenment’.
Spiritual leaders like Gautama Buddha and famed scientists like Albert Einstein have been known to be spiritual empaths.
Spiritual empathy is a part of the quantum world of metaphysics, and thus beyond the comprehension of most of us. One needs to access it intuitively and through using imagination with meditation.
These broad categories define the various forms of empathy, but the bottom line is always about our understanding towards other people. Now more than ever we need to have a better emotional connect to the world and our fellow human beings. Empathy helps us get a new, kinder perspective, one that is much needed in today’s world.