Buildig a culture of emapthy

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Culture of Empathy Builder: Joseph Burgo


Joseph Burgo & Edwin Rutsch: Dialogs on How to Build a Culture of Empathy with Psychotherapy

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 opposite 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.


Joseph Burgo & Edwin Rutsch: Dialogs on How to Build a Culture of Empathy with Psychotherapy


  • 00:00 Introduction

  • (transcription pending)

  • (Video Transcriptions: If you would like to take empathic action and create a transcription of this video, check the volunteers page.  The transcriptions will make it easier for other viewers to quickly see the content of this video.)



Empathy vs Sympathy in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

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.

Narcissistic Rage and the Failure of Empathy: 'Citizen Kane'

Charles Foster Kane from the classic film ‘Citizen Kane’ displays narcissistic rage and a lack of empathy, psychological features that show up in different personality and autistic spectrum disorders

Why Empathy Fails

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 mirror.

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.

  • A politically correct environment that teaches us the "right" way to feel rather than how to cope with the ways we actually do feel.

  • An economic environment that celebrates greed but doesn't inculcate values of social responsibility.

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 of others.

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.