Have you ever had someone acknowledge and reflect back to you what you're feeling so perfectly that it made you tear up?
Has someone ever taken the time to sit with you quietly in your grief and just hold your hand?
Have you ever told someone your story, shared your pain, or acknowledged your shame, and they teared up in response to the powerful feelings you were expressing?
If so, this is the essence of empathy.
Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling. It is the capacity to identify so intimately with the emotions of another that it's like being inside the other person's skin. But beyond sharing the feelings of another, it is the willingness to imagine how the other person is impacted by their emotions.
It is the conscious choice to focus on the other person's state of mind before your own. Empathy is often the first step toward taking compassionate action for someone.
There are two types of empathy which can occur separately or together. The first is affective empathy which refers to the feelings we feel when we observe or sense another person's emotions. For example, if you see someone crying, you will feel sad or teary yourself.
The second type of empathy is cognitive empathy. This is the ability to identity and understand the emotions of someone else. You are able to see a situation from their perspective and understand their emotions or reactions.