How is Empathy Developed?

When empathy has been shown to me, I’ve felt as if someone has wrapped a warm blanket around my shivering cold shoulders. But when I’ve had to share that same warmth with others, especially those who’ve hurt me, it hasn’t been so easy to achieve.

I see many in my counseling office who struggle in the same way to show empathy toward a controlling spouse, a rebellious teenage son or daughter, or a rude and demanding boss. Sadly, this gap must be bridged with empathy or there will be no understanding, no connection, no healing.

I will be sharing in a future post, what I’ve learned and done to develop empathy and compassion in my life. But for now, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what you’ve done that has worked to soften and open your heart.



Comments on: "How is Empathy Developed?" (6)

  1. I am not sure what exactly is meant here, but for me I would say a love between two people who are romantic and passionate with each other can cause a whole bunch of stuff to occur inside. The reality of care becomes more apparent when it starts shining bright. For me being a victim of neglect and maltreatment I felt very damaged as did she from her past which also involved being a victim of rapes. People don’t get the kind of pain people can be in, that they might be some what oblivious to all the care that exists around them. They might be too suspicious and fearful to understand the huge amounts of care that is all around. When two people are madly in love with each other then care comes flying fast out of the closet. And like magic I believe it catches everything around on fire to some degree. Love is magic. Unfortunatly it can seem that the art of love is weak in our culture. For her and I we were both incurably romantic and interested in romance and came from more traditional backgrounds. So for us things were no ordinary love. As for the society I live in it seems like there are too many distractions from love, mainly technology especially telivision entertanment and the media. If people are exposed to four hours a day of something that is not real than this is going to pulverize them when it comes to dealing with reality. I would imagine some people even lack the vocabulary to express their deepest warmest feelings. If someone wanted to create a powerful weapon that was better than poisin for Americans than the invention of the TV would have been perfect and is. I am only watching one night after two nights of watcing it. Also lets face it this country is also overly materialistic causing people to think to much about money. It is not possible to be thinking about money all the time and still have lots of love to give to others. Which has by now made my point. We are hoping for a revolution. A spiritual revolution that heals the hearts and minds of the world. I know I am not alone. I know there are people working for this goal everywhere in many ways big and small.

  2. Becky Boerner said:

    The only way I seem to experience true empathy or compassion is through my relationship with Christ. There are many and I repeat MANY times that I don’t get(understand) my husband. Around a year ago, we got into a huge argument and believe me there was no empathy from either one of us. I was done. Tired of being treated that way. I was tired of being the “nice” one and always looking at the positive. He left to go somewhere and I continued on with my evening doing laundry. As I stood in my laundry room, God began to work on my heart. (why, the laundry room, I’m not sure) He gave me a glimpse of Chris through His eyes. He showed me his inner hurts and gave me peace that his lashes out on me were because of a deeper pain that has been around much longer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not justifying his behavior or my own for that matter. But at that moment, God said to me, “Let me be YOUR strength, let ME help you show Chris what real love is, stop trying to do it in your own power. Right now, Becky you need to make some sacrifices” I was reminded of Abraham taking his only son and sacrificing him. He was going to do it because of obedience and because of his faith. So, now I am asked to make some sacrifices, the “simple” sacrifice, compared to Abraham, of respecting my husband and allowing God to work in his life. At that point I experienced empathy. I was able to understand Chris in a way that I never have before. We still have lots of issues to work on. (won’t we always) But now when we are in the heat of the battle and I don’t understand what he is doing or saying, I can pray for God to allow me to really understand.

  3. Morgan, I’m glad you pointed out that I wasn’t very clear what empathy is and does. Sometimes I get ahead of myself. Empathy is the ability to come alongside someone and see/feel what that person is feeling–especially understanding their pain. I think if we love someone, love can help us to empathize more, but can also make it more difficult because we may be hurt. Our own pain gets in the way of seeing another’s point of view or feelings. But thanks for your words and insights.

    Becky, thanks to you too. You’ve shared about a very vulnerable situation that really illustrates the difficulty of empathy, but also the healing power of empathy once it is activated. Thanks so much for sharing your life and thoughts.

  4. To Becky,

    A person can get pushed to hard in my experience and eventually it feels like they are really actually wanting to really push you away. This happened to me. It was a building up till the dam just had to burst and me ending the relationship. I have been pondering it lately and it seems to me that I place a high value on caring for those who are suffering. You might even say I believe in it. I helped her a lot while she was suffering. I listened to her a lot tell me her painful things. I agreed to let her voice be the one that is spoken the most often early on. If there is anything that matters now about the relationship is that I know I helped heal her some and she gave me something back to. Some healing, but also she was as wise as they come.

    Here is my thanks. If she can feel these words and with her sensitivity I would not be surprised if she did.

    So true love to me at this point is a form of sacrifice which can be hard, but lead to great spiritual riches.

  5. nikki carrion said:

    I think a person can develop empathy through their own personal expierences that may make it easier to relate to others that go through similar experiences or circumstances. In fact, I think God specifically “works for the good” in difficult circumstances and experiences in my life with one of His specific purposes being to increase my ability to empathize with others. Certainly it is not always easy and I don’t do it perfectly. I agree with you Beth that sometimes our own pain (or fear of our own pain) may be a barrier to empathizing with another person–particularly a person that we care about. Good topic 🙂


  6. Thanks, Nikki. I just saw that you commented, so it worked! Yea! And thanks for adding to the discussion. I really appreciate all the varied perspectives on the subject.

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