Since the term ’emotional intelligence’ emerged some 20 years ago (in 1996 to be precise, popularised in the book “Emotional Intelligence” by Dan Goleman), the topic on discussing emotions and how to manage them successfully has been extremely popular.
And there is a lot of writing and talking about mental health awareness as well, as a key to better understanding of the self and others, respectively – better relationships and performance in most areas of life.
Studies have found that the lack of contentment in one’s life is often linked with inability of recognizing, controlling and communicating our emotions properly. Of course, effective communication runs both ways, so the recipient of the conveyed message should be empathetic. This means a conscious effort should be done to enter and walk in the other’s shoes. Empathy is the experience of understanding and even feeling the condition of the other.
In the English language, the word empathy firstly appeared in the 1890s, as a term in the psychological theory of K. Lasswitz to name a physical property of the nervous system analogous to electrical capacitance, believed to be correlated with feelings.
The meaning of ’emotional mirroring’ appeared in 1909, when the English psychologist Edward Bradford Titchener used the term empathy in his Lectures on the experimental psychology of the thought-processes: “’Not only do I see gravity and modesty and pride..but I feel or act them in the mind’s muscles. This is, I suppose, a simple case of empathy, if we may coin that term as a rendering of Einfühlung”.
Titchener modelled the word on the German term Einfühlung (ein ‘in’ + Fühlung ‘feeling’), coined by the German philosopher Robert Vischer, who used it firstly in print in his 1873 doctoral thesis On the Optical Sense of Form.
Vischer, himself, coined the word as a translation of the Greek empatheia, meaning ‘physical passion or suffering’ (en, ‘in’ + pathos, ‘passion or suffering’) and introduced the concept of Einfühlung in relation to art.
It was another German philosopher to extend the term to the area of interpersonal understanding, Theodor Lipps, who regarded Einfühlung as basically similar to the feeling of aesthetic sympathy. As the 1912 The Academy: a monthly record of literature, learning, science, and art wrote: “[Lipps] propounded the theory that the appreciation of a work of art depended upon the capacity of the spectator to project his personality into the object of contemplation. One had to ‘feel oneself into it’… This mental process he called by the name of Einfühlung, or, as it has been translated, Empathy.”
It was the 1946 Journal Clinical Psychology to first publish on interpersonal empathy and the difference between empathy and sympathy: “A ‘man-to-man’ regard for the client, characterized (ideally) by the understanding of empathy without the erratic quality of identification or the supportiveness of sympathy.”
Some people empathise more easily than others. We have the so called “mirror neurons”, which are responsible for our reaction and reproduction of emotions expressed by other people. Yet, the Christmas season is the time when empathy naturally blossoms in all of us, maybe driven by the essence of the religious celebration behind it and opening our hearts for others to try to understand their feelings and perspectives.
Show empathy and make your world a little better in 2017!