Empathy: Definition, Features And Examples

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Examples
  3. Conclusion
  4. References


Among some of the best ways of increasing our understanding is trying to explain phenomena that we already know and questioning why these phenomena are happening . A curious mind is an essential tool that helps the bearer increase their learning and understanding of various occurrences to the best of their capabilities. Although there is no rational explanation for some observations such as why a cow may eat green grass but still produce white milk? Or why are the planets spherical? We could increase our understanding of such events by maintaining an analytical approach toward such cases and other related issues. One may wonder why is it necessary to try and understand general information differently while we already have the agreed-upon scientific and non-scientific explanations for these occurrences? This is a case that may get answered from a growth and development perspective. While growth is a process that reaches a certain point in our lives and eventually stops, development is a life-long process that occurs continuously in the presence of an individual until death (Mercer & Reynolds, 2002). Through increasing our understanding of these phenomena or seeking different view-points, we are growing in terms of our developmental aspects which helps make us more accomplished beings with a higher level of understanding.

Alfred Adler states that “Seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” In this quote, Alfred Adler gives a clear understanding of the word empathy. Empathy is when you share and recognize the emotion of another person or being. It often involves seeing yourself in the situation and sharing their emotions (Burton, 2015). Empathy is almost always confused with sympathy and compassion. Sympathy is defined as the feeling of care or concern of someone. Both terms have an origin of the Greek term “pathos”. “Pathos” means passion and suffering. Although both empathy and empathy involve having a form of concern for someone. Most individuals do not realize there is a significant difference between empathy and sympathy. The biggest difference between sympathy and empathy is perspective. Sympathy does not involve a shared perspective or shared emotion (Burton, 2015). For instance, an individual who grew up poor would feel empathy towards someone who is currently poor. This individual would more likely be able to understand the emotion and heartache of being poor. However, an individual who never grew poor would most likely feel sympathy since they never experienced being poor. There is a clear difference between the statements “I use to feel how you feel” (empathy) vs “I am sorry you feel that way ” (sympathy). I strongly believe that most individuals use sympathy as a response to most situations. Empathy is only really used when we have experienced a similar encounter or emotion as someone else.


Physicians in society have the important role of serving the needs of patients. These visits can go easily bad, well, or okay. From experience, good visits usually consist of the doctor being attentive, sympathetic, and understanding. On the other hand, bad visits consist of the doctor still being sympathetic but lacking other traits. Both doctors can be sympathetic to patients, however, they can lack empathy. 'In order to be perceived as empathic, the observer must convey this understanding to the subject. During the initial phase of the process, the observer must not only identify but also understand the basis of the subject's feelings” (Hirisch, 2007). Its common knowledge that most doctors go through grueling hours of studying for years. Medical students study human anatomy, physiology, and medicine repeatedly during school. It’s safe to assume that medical instructors have taught their students to be empathetic towards patients. However, I can only imagine medical school education does not heavily emphasize the importance of being empathetic and sympathetic in their curriculum. Well treating patients most physicians do not imagine being patient’s shoes, they are figuring out they can relieve the patient's worries. For example, a physician taking care of a patient that has excruciating pain it’s not thinking about how severe the patient’s pain might be. Although the doctor is sympathetic, he resolves the patient’s pain with pain killers and quickly tries to diagnose the patient after viewing lab results. This physician is sympathetic, not empathic. A doctor that has suffered from something similar or closely encountered in a similar case is more likely to use empathy while treating this patient. Empathy focuses on developing skills, attitudes and moral concern rather than just urging

Empathy, unlike compassion or sympathy, is not something that just happens to us, it is a choice to make to pay attention to extend ourselves. It requires an effort'(Rettner, 2016). We all have experienced an interaction with another human that was extremely uncomfortable. It could be conversations about financial issues, relationship problems or family deaths. The usual response to these conversations is “I’m sorry to hear that”, “It will get better”, or “So sorry for your loss”. Yes, these responses are very sympathetic. However, for someone that never dealt with life issues like financial issues, breakups, deaths; can they really understand? We can absorb their pain the feel, but can we really feel it? The answer is no. We don’t understand their pain until experience something similar happens to us. However, we can closely listen, be supportive and try to put ourselves in their shoes. As we know, human emotions are complex as every individual is different from the other in their respective attributes (Greenberg et al. 2011). Therefore, by possessing empathy, it requires one to have a clear understanding of how the other party feels regarding a particular situation and how they think the events leading to that specific outcome should have unfolded. An empathetic person is therefore required to put themselves in the shoes of the other person and try to understand the situation at hand from this individual’s point of view (Snow, 2000).

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Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in mass shootings in the USA. Just this year, the number of mass shootings across the U.S. has outpaced the number of days this year, according to a gun violence research group (Silverstein, 2019). Unfortunately, the normalcy of gun violence is very prominent in the U.S. Almost every month there a breaking news story about a mass shooting. After hearing the news about a new shooting, almost everyone watching is usually devastated and shocked. People often express about they need to be aware of their surroundings in public. Although these events are terrifying, people usually go back to their normal routines a couple of weeks later. We humans like to forget things that distress us to preserve our well- being. Although we are sympathetic, we don’t really comprehend and process these tragedies as a victim would. Victims of these tragedies suffer from injuries. PTSD, and other traumatic obstacles. It also not rare for victims to make a significant change in their stance in politics. After experiencing the Vegas shooting, in 2017 Caleb Keeter posted on his twitter that he was changing his stance on the Second Amendment. In his post, he expressed how wrong he was regarding gun control. He never imagined that he and his band members would ever experience horror like that. He expressed that the government should regulate guns and implement a background check for gun owners (Howard, 2018). Keeter experience is a perfect example of people not really understanding something until it happens to them.

Empathy is not just quality it is a higher state of existence. There is the probability that understanding is a guardian angel coined to a term. A guardian angel, according to popular belief, is a supernatural being who plays the role of protection and consolation in times when a person is exposed to trying or tempting situations that may be difficult to handle. When an empathetic person walks into your life at this particular time, they try to console the suffering party and tries to give them consolation as well a possible explanations for the various reasons why things might have turned out as they did and the steps that the individual in suffering may take to restore normalcy in their lives.

This may, therefore, lead to the inference that empathy is not merely a quality but a compellation by a higher force or authority to accomplish a given task. Most people may look at the term from a superficial point of view and think that empathy could only get offered by an individual close to you and one who understands whatever challenges that you may be going through. However, pose a minute and contemplate about a breakup situation in love. A partner whom you fully trusted with a lot of thing in your life may take advantage of this and exploit you for their benefits and lead to a breakup. While drowning your sorrow at the bottom of a bottle in a bar, a total stranger walk up to you, engages you in a conversation that changes your perspective on the whole issue by appealing to your emotion and actually leaves you feeling empowered and even much better.

The ability of this individual to understand your feelings at a time of desperation and even make you feel better about a situation that you thought was the worst is not merely empathy. To reinforce on this point, what possible rational explanation could explain the presence of these two individuals at the same place and time where one appears to have needed the other without any form of prior communication? Also bearing in mind that there were other people in the bar, how does the 'empathetic individual' single out the one specific individual to start a conversation with?


From the evidence presented above, it is possible to infer that empathy is not merely the ability to understand other people's feelings and give the required response. Insight is a much higher state of existence in which the bearer of this quality may be perceived to be operating at a position of higher understanding in the absence of the knowledge of so doing (Hornblow, 1980). Empathy is an involuntary response which the individuals who possess it to respond towards without knowing and perform tasks beyond their comprehension in a simplistic approach from the external observers’ point of view, but at a higher level of sophistication form the insider’s approach (Weiner & Auster, 2007).


  1. Mercer, S. W., & Reynolds, W. J. (2002). Empathy and quality of care. Br J Gen Pract, 52(Suppl), S9-12.
  2. Howard, M. (2017, October 4). America's Gun Crisis Is A Crisis Of Empathy.
  3. Hojat, M. (n.d.). A Definition and Key Features of Empathy in Patient Care. Empathy in Patient Care, 77–85. doi: 10.1007/0-387-33608-7_6
  4. Elliott, R., Bohart, A. C., Watson, J. C., & Greenberg, L. S. (2011). Empathy. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 43.
  5. Silverstein, J. (2019, September 1). There have been more mass shootings than days this year. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mass-shootings-2019-more-mass-shootings-than-days-so-far-this-year/.
  6. Snow, N. E. (2000). Empathy. American Philosophical Quarterly, 37(1), 65-78.
  7. Weiner, S. J., & Auster, S. (2007). From empathy to caring: Defining the ideal approach to a healing relationship. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 80(3), 123.
  8. Hornblow, A. R. (1980). The study of empathy. New Zealand Psychologist, 9(1), 19-28.
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