Why do people always associate empathy with feeling down?

March 4, 2015 by Joshua
in Awareness, Perception, Tips

Yet again, another paper on empathy only associates it with emotions we don’t like—sadness, loss, etc. Almost never laughter, joy, fun, and feelings we like. I wrote about this before and how catastrophically it impedes people from developing what is otherwise an important tool for relationships, leadership, your own health, and more. I’m not even going to mention the paper because it’s so counterproductive.

Wikipedia describes empathy like:

discerning what another person is thinking or feeling; and making less distinct the differences between the self and the other. It also is the ability to feel and share another person’s emotions. Some believe that empathy involves the ability to match another’s emotions…

Nothing in there suggests you can only empathize about gloom and doom. Yet look at the table of contents:

  • 10 Anger and distress
    • 10.1 Anger
    • 10.2 Distress
  • 11 Atypical response
    • 11.1 Autism spectrum
      • 11.1.1 Alexithymia
      • 11.1.2 Mirror neuron activity
      • 11.1.3 Theory of mind
      • 11.1.4 Cognitive and affective empathy
      • 11.1.5 Empathizing–systemizing theory
      • 11.1.6 Sex differences and autism
    • 11.2 Personality disorders
      • 11.2.1 Psychopathy
      • 11.2.2 Borderline personality disorder
      • 11.2.3 Narcissistic personality disorder
      • 11.2.4 Schizoid personality disorder
    • 11.3 Conduct disorder
    • 11.4 Schizophrenia
    • 11.5 Bipolar disorder
    • 11.6 Depersonalization

If that’s all anyone associates with empathy, I wouldn’t develop it either!

Totally counterproductive!

How about when you see someone laugh and you start to smile? Why not use that as an example of empathy? Or when someone crosses the finish line in a race and you can sense their triumph? What not use that as an example of empathy? Or when a musician on stage brings us into their moment?

That’s all empathy!

If you want to learn more empathy and you’re not Eeyore, I recommend ignoring most of what most people write about it and focus on how much you probably already empathize with emotions you like. It’s easier to expand from there when you realize you’re already doing it than to try to guess at something abstract when people focus on trying to empathize with people whose pet just died.

I hope someone gets their PhD from realizing how much psychology has missed the boat on how much joy empathy can bring and how more more of it people have than the realize.


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1 response to “Why do people always associate empathy with feeling down?

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