Education & Awareness

2 Important Types of Empathy

You matter.

What is empathy?

We have heard this word go around the internet and even in conversation when considering the emotions of others and those that surround us; but what is it really?

According to Lanzoni (2018), it is the ability to understand and experience the pain, happiness, excitement, sorrow, and so on of others. It is the ability to see the world through their eyes and comprehend their decisions along with the reactions to the world around them. Pretty powerful stuff, right?

However, empathy is much more than this definition.

So, a little history, the concept of empathy—or being able to comprehend and experience other’s pains—goes way back to the Greeks, more specifically, Aristotle. He believed that the human journey to happiness and humanity, consisted of being able to connect emotionally with others’ despair/happiness (Lanzoni).

            As time has progressed, science evolved, and the implementation of psychology and psychotherapy, so has the concept of empathy. Empathy has actually split into two different concepts of comprehension.

There is emotional empathy and cognitive empathy.

Emotional empathy includes the ability to connect with others through sheer emotions (Smith, 2006). In other words, when you see a sad movie and the characters cry, if you feel the emotion of sadness and begin to tear up, you are experiencing emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy requires a little more emotional intelligence than emotional empathy does.

Cognitive empathy consists of being able to identify the emotions that are being displayed (Smith, 2006). For example, when a person starts yelling out of fury and you recognize that they are angry without becoming angry yourself, you connected with them through a more cognitive empathic system than emotional.

            So, what is so important about understanding empathy? Actually, empathy is an important concept especially during these times of distress and fear due to the COVID 19.

We are all in the same situation in which we feel fear, despair, annoyance, anger, sadness, and even boredom. Because we are all experiencing these emotions in our own way, it is important to be conscientious about how others are dealing with these distressful times of quarantine, COVID 19, illnesses, over or underwork. If you have not noticed, tensions are high. People are angrier, more hostile, and even bitter because of the quarantine.

These are all masks of fear due to uncertainty that awaits us ahead in the next year or even the next months.

It is important to take a moment and hone our empathic skills with each other.

We are all feeling some kind of way during this pandemic and learning to be patient with each other, reduces hostility and an increase of negative emotions. What I mean with this, take a moment and look at the people that surround you, whether it is at the store or even in your neighborhood. They may look normal and have no issues that are being displayed, but do they really?

What if they lost their job due to the quarantine?

What if a family member caught the COVID 19 and they are trying to manage the emotions that are welling within them?

What if they are healthcare worker that go to work, expose themselves day in and day out, watching patients die and/or get worse?

The list goes on, right? We never know what is really going on, however, when we empathize with each other, we take a step back and allow ourselves to be human with each other, not judge, demean, or disrespect. So, how can we incorporate some of these empathic skills without burning out?

Well, let us understand cognitive and emotional empathy a little more and the benefits each can provide for how we decide to empathize with each other.

Emotional empathy alone, motivates people to behave altruistically (Smith, 2006). This mean, this provides people to help out others easily because it provides a sense of good feelings because we have connected with them emotionally and when we relieve their negative emotions, we also relieve our own when we help.

However, alone, emotional empathy can burn people out. This is due to always having your emotions react to situations outside of your control. What do you do when you cannot help someone even though you want to relieve their pain, and yours? You can’t, therefore, causes more distress for you and you burn out.

Cognitive empathy, on the other hand, facilitates conversations and helps people become socially adequate, understanding the complexity of the world around them (Smith, 2006). Cognitive empathy allows those socially adequate to understand the behavioral and emotional state of others.

However, only using cognitive empathy, rejects the ability to emotionally connect with people. Have you ever (either yourself or others around you) encountered a situation where a person is crying or in distress but their friend/family, just look at them emotionless? How did that feel? Probably not too great because then it makes you or the other person very self-conscious.

Therefore, using and incorporating both empathic skills are crucial for connection, especially within these trying times. Emotional empathy helps us feel like helping someone in need while cognitive empathy clarifies for use what sort of help is appropriate and needed.

Let us take a moment and recognize what is going on in the world around us. This world is vast and great.

It is ALL of our responsibilities to help each other grow, expand, and mature to make a world that we would be proud to live in where differences are acceptable, and when we mourn as a nation of humanity, we lift each other up rather than try and reach the top by pulling everyone else down. It will never work.

“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

-Rumi, Persian poet and theologian


Elda Step, LPC, LMHC, CART


Lanzoni, S. (2018). Empathy: A history. Grand Rapids, MI: Integrated Publishing Solutions.

Smith, A. (2006). Cognitive empathy and emotional empathy in human behavior and evolution.   The Psychological Record, 53, 3-21. Retrieved from &searchResultsType=SingleTab&hitCount=12&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&currentPosition=4&docId=GALE%7CA142338935&docType=Article&sort=Relevance&co ntentSegment=ZEAIMOD1&prodId=EAIM&pageNum=1&contentSet=GALE%7CA142 338935&searchId=R  2&userGroupName=minn4020&inPS=true

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