Joseph Burgo has
practiced psychotherapy for more than 30 years, holding licenses as a
marriage and family therapist and clinical psychologist.
The empathic person is a bit like a sponge, absorbing a part of the
other person's emotional experience and feeling it inside. The
would be indifference and self-absorption because
they make it
impossible to absorb the feelings of another person. The
metaphor of this would be narcissus and his reflection in the mirror.
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Sympathy usually means entering into and sharing feelings that
another person has verbally and intentionally expressed; empathy
involves intuiting something unspoken, of which the other person may
sometimes be entirely unaware.
In order to empathize with another person, you have
to recognize that he or she actually exists apart from and without
specific reference to you. Our ability to tolerate separateness
largely determines how well we are able to empathize with others.
What is your metaphor of empathy? The empathic person is a bit like a sponge, absorbing a part of the
other person's emotional experience and feeling it inside.
Describe your personal felt experience in your body of empathy? It can mean so many things. It depends on the feeling with which I'm
empathizing. Sometimes during a session, a powerful feeling of sadness
or fear may come over me; I register it in my body just as I would
register my own emotions.
What is the opposite of empathy and what is your metaphor for that? I think indifference and self-absorption are its true opposites because
they make it possible to absorb the feelings of another person. I suppose the metaphor would be narcissus and his reflection. The
What are the obstacles to deepening empathy? There are so many!
Narcissism and indifference.
A culture that views
Celebrity and Romantic Love as the only sources of meaning.
politically correct environment that teaches us the "right" way to feel
rather than how to cope with the ways we actually do feel.
environment that celebrates greed but doesn't inculcate values of social
How to overcome the obstacles? Self - Honesty This question can best be addressed with my answer 3 to your first
question -- teaching people how to acknowledge and bear with the full
range of their own emotional experience and not pretend to be nicer,
more loving or aggression-free than they really are. When it extends to
our own "ugliness", self-acceptance makes us more empathic and accepting
Building a Culture of Empathy
1. Empathy and sympathy First thing we need to do is to distinguish between empathy and
sympathy; feeling empathy for others is not the same thing as feeling
sorry or sad for them.
2. Accept all Feelings: Western culture defines certain emotions as desirable (love,
generosity, etc.) and others as "bad" or "selfish". We need to be more
honest about the full range of human emotion and not try to get rid of
the difficult ones. If you look around the world, you see hatred, anger
and violence everywhere; jealousy and envy are everyday emotions. We
need to understand these phenomena as universal aspects of human nature
and not pretend that we can transcend them or get rid of them.
3. Self-Empathy - (Judgments) Only when we have accepted our own difficult emotions and learned to bear with them can we fully empathize with other people.
Most people can sympathize with the suffering of the disadvantaged; few
people understand and empathize with the shame and destructive rage that
are part of the Muslim experience. We need to stop trying to teach our
children the CORRECT way to feel, but rather how to cope with the ways
they actually do feel. This will help them to be more empathic toward
other people struggling with the same emotions.