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Empathy is the ability and willingness , feelings , emotions , thoughts , motives and personality traits to recognize another person to understand and empathize. A corresponding general term is empathy .

Empathy also generally includes the ability to respond appropriately to other people's feelings, for example, compassion , sadness , pain and willingness to help out of compassion. However, recent brain research suggests that empathic faculties can be clearly distinguished from compassion.

The basis of empathy is self-awareness - the more open a person is to their own emotions, the better they can interpret the feelings of others.

Empathy plays a fundamental role in many sciences and application areas (e.g. in music), from criminology to political science , psychotherapy , psychology , physiology , physiotherapy , nursing science , education , philosophy , linguistics , medicine and psychiatry to management or marketing .

Concept history

The word empathy goes back to the ancient Greek word ἐμπάθεια empátheia  - formed from the noun πάθος páthos ("suffering, misfortune, suffering, passion"), from which the root path- goes back, and the prefix ἐν / ἐμ en / em ("in, on, on "). It means "intense emotion, passion" and develops the meanings "prejudice, hostility, spite" on the way to modern Greek . Only the origin of the word “empathy” can be traced back to this Greek word, but not the meaning of the modern term in colloquial or technical usage.

The Greek συμπάθεια sympátheiasympathy ” is formed like the German “sympathy”, namely from σύν / σύμ syn / sym (“with”) and the root path- (“suffer, feel”) as well as the word formation suffix . Analogous to this, in the 19th century the Greek-based terms German “empathy” and English empathy were re- formed from Greek ἐν / ἐμ en / em (“in, an, on”) and path as loan translation from German “empathy” to include international To create technical terms.

The history of these terms is still unclear. The German philosopher Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817–1881) first used the term “empathy” in 1848. In 1902 Theodor Lipps drafted a theory of empathy as an “intrapsychic process”. He pursued the thesis of a human compulsion to motor imitation. Edward B. Titchener first used the term empathy in 1909 when he wanted to correctly translate the “true” meaning of the word “empathy” in the works of Theodor Lipps.

The same thing happened again when the couple Alix and James Strachey (1887–1967) had to translate the term “empathy” in the works of Sigmund Freud into English. The German “empathy” can then - with or without knowledge of Lotze's use - have been formed as a correspondence to English empathy .

Definitions and classification of empathy

According to Paul Ekman , empathy (compassion) and pity are not emotions, but reactions to another person's emotion. Ekman also differentiates between cognitive and emotional empathy: “ Cognitive empathy lets us recognize what someone else is feeling. Emotional empathy makes us feel what the other is feeling, and compassion makes us want to help the other… ”.

Arthur Ciaramicoli distinguishes between

  1. authentic empathy, feeling emotionally with and experiencing the other's emotions, which is associated with a higher affective component and a stronger tendency to prosocial behavior , and
  2. functional empathy, The rational Reproduce and reflecting a feel the emotion of others, a more cognitive owns shares and allows emotional detachment, and for example, when therapeutic is used reflect, however (eg. In sale and advertising) also for the effective manipulation and for exploitative Targets up to sadism, abuse, torture etc. can be abused.

Leonardo Badea describes empathy as an ability that is crucial for success in almost all areas of life . People and especially managers with particularly strong empathic skills have better personal relationships and can motivate themselves and others more strongly; they learn faster and enjoy greater confidence.

According to Lawrence Shaw, Elizabeth Segal and Tharrenos Braitsis and co-authors, three forms of empathy are distinguished:

  1. Emotional empathy , the ability to feel the same as other people (compassion); it is also called emotional sensitivity;
  2. cognitive empathy , the ability to understand not only feelings, but also thoughts and intentions of other people and to draw correct conclusions about their behavior (comparable to the theory of mind ); and
  3. Social empathy , the ability to understand complex social situations (systems) with people from different cultures, character traits and values ​​in order to be able to communicate with them constructively.

Emotional or affective empathy

For more recent brain research, the neuroscientist Tania Singer claims a measurable difference between “empathy” and “compassion”. Her “pain empathy experiments” show that the empathic sympathy with other people's pain is processed by a different neural network than the active benevolent compassion: “Empathy is more like a capacity for resonance - you share a feeling with another person, but that At risk of being overwhelmed and of getting into empathic stress. Compassion, on the other hand, has a different quality. It has something of the care of a mother comforting her child and is associated with positive, calming and loving feelings. ”While spontaneous empathy with the suffering of others can lead to emotional exhaustion, under the same circumstances active compassion is rewarding and trainable .

The American psychologist Paul Bloom argues similarly . “Empathy means: I feel what another person feels. Compassion means: I take care of the other, I take care of him. ” Compassion is an expression of the reason that mediates between spontaneous, distant sympathy and the cold, distant mind.

Cognitive empathy or perspective adoption

According to the current state of knowledge, one can speak of an internal and an external perspective adoption. It is known of humans that they can put themselves into the inner state of another. It was observed in animals that they could only take over what they perceived in the external behavior of another. For example, the young chimpanzee takes over the externally perceptible environment that another chimpanzee manipulates, e.g. B. a stick that is thrown by the other chimpanzee, then the boy takes a stick and experiments with his own throw attempts. On the other hand, a human child is able to take on the inner state or perspective of another, which, for example, triggered an observed throwing of a stick.


The ability for internal perspective taking (. English perspective taking ) draws people - for external perspective taking and the great apes and probably some other higher species - (see theory of mind ). From the point of view of epistemology and philosophy of science , a change of perspective is required if fundamentally different theories exist or if different perspectives and reference systems are necessary to grasp the whole of reality, for example consciousness and brain processes ( body-soul problem ). This perspectivism of thinking has direct consequences for the methods of research.

Differential psychology and diagnostics

In differential psychology and in psychological diagnostics , the question arises whether people differ in their ability to recognize the psychological states and motives of another person. Obviously, this change of perspective is extremely difficult for many people to at least approximately put themselves in the shoes of another person. Others claim that they are good at it. This empathy is not only important when people live together, but also for the training of psychologists and psychotherapists.

A research overview by Funder (1999) on the question of whether there are really good psychological assessors in the sense that they are able to assess other people well in everyday life (willingness to help, reliability and trustworthiness, including their current state of mind), finds that there is insufficient evidence for the assumption of a special ability to be a “good assessor” exist. However, the investigations would still be too simple to really capture such talents. Which standards should apply here? Psychological research tries to differentiate between several aspects: first, what another thinks, second, what another feels, and third, whether he reacts compassionately to the situation of the other.

When study participants repeatedly assessed the well-being of their partner in various situations, agreement with the partner's self-report was found to be low to medium. Each participant was also asked about their self-assessment as to whether they were a good assessor. In the case of a positive self-assessment, the condition actually classified by the partner could not be assessed more accurately in this study .

Social psychology and psychotherapy

Perspective adoption is a technique or ability from social psychology and psychodrama in which one puts oneself in the role and position of another and tries to see the world from his point of view:

Walking in someone else's moccasins ” (Indian saying, full “never judge another before you have walked in his moccasins for a moon” for: empathizing with his role, his perspective). It is also understood to mean the ability to respond to other values and norms in order to integrate them into one's own person and to be able to assume new social roles (cf. exchange ).

It is essential that one's emotional state the emotional state of another person equivalent. This is triggered by taking the other person's perspective - "slipping into their skin" - and thus being able to understand their emotional and other reactions. Sometimes this even works in extreme situations. For example, in anti-aggressiveness training, the ability of (potential) violent offenders to empathize with their victims is required . However, the concept of role-taking itself is fuzzy; so it is with Jean Piaget compared to George Herbert Mead created strong cognitivistic and empathy concept.


In history, the joint adoption of a perspective has often been related to democratic tendencies or the bridging of class boundaries . The theater of ancient Greece was closely related to the idea of ​​Athenian democracy . Aristotle coined the terms mimesis and catharsis in this context . This public empathy was attempted in the 18th century with the so-called stirring piece . Empathy theories have developed since the French Revolution . The early psychology of Sigmund Freud , for example , referred to the theater theory (" Oedipus complex ").

Jacob Levy Moreno developed psychodrama mainly between 1914 and 1940 . The group is at the center of the therapeutic process, not the individual, as with Freud. The story of a member of the group, the protagonist, is presented to the others in one or more scenes with the help of a trained guide. The audience helps when the protagonist is looking for actors for the problem he has suffered. So these actors take the perspective of these people for the duration of the scene and beyond. In the final sharing and role feedback , they help the protagonist with the presentation of their perspective.

Narrative empathy

Even Fritz Breithaupt explained (as Ernest Mandel , s. O.) Social empathy as the most important basis for human social system . However, he sees the real cause for the creation of a social system in the expansion of the pure "two-person empathy" (mother / child etc.) that can also be observed in other living beings by a third instance. This creates a “three-part empathy”. As examples, Breithaupt u. a. the “ Stockholm Syndrome ” (hostages sympathize with hostage-takers against the police as a third instance) or empathy with a beggar (only arises when he is treated negatively by a third person, for example).

Since empathy outside of classic "two-party scenarios" can only be explained to a limited extent by existing similarity or mutual observation of those involved, Breithaupt sees literature - especially dual narration - as the most important cause for empathic understanding. According to Breithaupt, the fictional literature of each historical period in particular has always been of great importance for the respective social system. In one-dimensional (introspective or self-related) literature (often poetry, lyric poetry, music texts, etc.), there is often only a "two-scene empathy" between the reader and the author, which does not create any social empathy. Following Breithaupt, however, the reader (or observer or listener) of a dispute (at least) between two people then has a third instance.

According to this view, empathy on a broader (social) basis first requires the cognitive (mind-changing) narrative or consideration of communication between at least two parties. Breithaupt describes the resulting empathy as narrative empathy . In every open (not traditionally shaped) social system, which is inevitably accompanied by (small or large) still unsolved problems, emerging and socially necessary social empathy, according to Breithaupt, depends on the emergence of a third (as independent as possible) authority and it only arises through communicative narration of any kind (consciously presented or arising from prolonged observation).

According to Breithaupt, empathy is inevitably and exclusively to be described as a product of "taking sides in a threesome scene", which does not arise naturally (as in "two-person scene empathy"), but can only arise narrative. However, Breithaupt favors this partisanship as a means of achieving group cohesion in order to successfully combat other groups (he names, for example, families, but also other party conflicts). Breithaupt defines empathy mainly as a subjectively effective ability (filter for the "rush of pity"). In the classification of empathy for others, especially changing empathy in three-way scenarios with the aim of resolving any conflicts of others, it is contradictory. The fact that social empathy has high conflict avoidance potential is positively confirmed here by Breithaupt, but he only sees this as a further goal, not as currently existing.

Developing empathy in the child

Acquired or innate capacity for empathy

The most common use of the term empathy today outside of purely scientific texts relates to the natural understanding between mother and newborn that actually exists in all mammals. Here, the distinction between acquired and innate ability to empathize is of great importance.

In general, among other things in child psychology , it is assumed that conscious empathy does not develop in small children until they are 2 years old, for example from self-recognition in mirrors. However, the social behavior of very young children before this stage of development is often interpreted and referred to in the sciences as merely “ emotional contagion ”. Recent research in psychology, behavioral research, and neurophysiology also describes a different existence of empathy beyond the level of emotional contagion.

The socially determined empathy aimed at by the upbringing has in principle the goal of achieving a group-specific psychological identity . Psychologists such as Arno Gruen deduce the existence of an innate ability to empathize from the considerable individuality already shown by very young children . First controversial experiments show that very young children are able and willing to communicate long before the age at which they can be influenced by socially determined empathy. However, since communication , according to Carl Rogers (1959), requires empathy, apparently even the smallest children are already empathic.

Even Rupert Lay facing early childhood actions have the empathy for the purposes of communication for the purpose of border determination (other then its own borders) close.

According to some psychologists, the innate capacity for empathy is lost through cultural influences (upbringing) and is replaced by cognitive empathy. Arno Gruen sees the lack of opportunity for an individual willingness to communicate and the unsuccessfulness of individual people in today's industrial societies as the main cause of individual aggression , which increasingly comes from young people.

Even before the ability to empathize, Manfred Cierpka sees the positive but also the negative influence of direct caregivers on young children, which in extreme cases can lead to a later total refusal of emotions.

The American psychologist Carolyn Zahn-Waxler has observed that children as early as one year old playfully irritate their caregivers (mothers) - for example, they deliberately refuse to cooperate when getting dressed. These games are the first attempts at communication in the sense of the sociological systems theory according to Niklas Luhmann : The problem of double contingency is resolved on the part of the child by establishing an alter ego with which it is consciously “discussed”. Through the reaction (information) of the caregiver, the toddler learns to recognize the limits of others and finds its own limits, the child expands its consciousness , and an emergent order is formed between the caregiver and the child . However, if the child's attempt to communicate is not noticed and even answered with negative emotions (usually the mother's anger about the refusal), primal fears arise even in the youngest child .

The distinction and separation of either emotional contagion or empathy on both sides (both on the part of the child and on the part of the caregiver) is considered to be particularly important with toddlers, since the latter is expressed non-verbally by the child and therefore - also because the innate ability to empathy in toddlers is still is largely unexplored - is often not properly perceived.

Developmental psychology

Empathy is also very important in psychoanalytic developmental psychology . It is considered to be a basic human ability and is primarily described as a mother's empathy for babies. As a possibility, it belongs to the basic equipment of people and can be promoted, hindered or destroyed by the way parents treat the child .

The English child analyst Donald W. Winnicott describes empathy in the context of maternal care as a natural ability through which the mother feels what the infant needs in terms of the satisfaction of its physiological needs as well as in terms of being supported. He also shows how the mother gradually changes her attitude towards the infant and adapts it to increasing maturity. In successful interactions in the care of the infant, it can be observed how the empathy, which initially belongs to a primary motherhood , in which the needs are felt as they arise, turns into an understanding “based on the noticing of signs in the infant and toddler to point out a need ”and states:“ This is particularly difficult for the mothers, because the children fluctuate back and forth between one and the other state; one moment they are fused with the mothers and need empathy, while the next moment they are separated from the mother; if she then knows her needs in advance, she is dangerous, a witch. ”Through this development, the infant steps out of the omnipotence initially fantasized by good motherly care (when I am hungry, there is also something satisfying) and the distinction arises between the self and the not-self. This distinction is, in addition to the experienced empathy itself, the prerequisite for the child to be able to develop empathy himself, because this includes the separation into I and Other-than-I.

The Austrian-American child analyst Christine Olden also describes empathy in the mother-child relationship as a fertile and non- narcissistic empathy of the mother with the constantly changing developmental needs of the growing child. It is also about renouncing a permanent fusion when the child begins to separate from the mother.

The American psychoanalyst and infant researcher Daniel Stern , who researched the development of the child's self-experience, describes that with the emergence of feelings of a subjective self and an intersubjective relationship (around the age of 8 to 15 months), there is a change in the experience of empathy come The infant now no longer only perceives the empathic reaction itself, but feels “that an empathic process has been built as a bridge between the two inner sensitivities.” This also creates the ability to experience psychological intimacy and the need to deal with one's own To trust experience and to be recognized.

The innate core of the ability to empathize can be observed as an affect infection even in very young children . B. when they start crying when another child is crying. Gradually, children begin to act out what they have experienced on an inner stage and representations of the caregivers and the experienced relationship situations are formed . The child begins "to detach its memories of affects and of emotionally significant relationship situations from the current experience of reality and to allow them to appear as ideas on the inner stage." On this play area, the child "designs" possibilities for empathizing with the various people in the inner scenes, as can also be observed in children's play when the child is playing alone, e.g. B. with dolls, figures or cuddly toys. In contrast to affect infection, which is an involuntary process, the developing empathy is an active and creative process, an achievement of the subject and thus always a subjective interpretation of the other. Associated with this is the "taking of perspective", which consists of being able to experience situations from the perspective of the other as well as an understanding of social contexts in which and through which feelings arise. Both are important characteristics in developing empathy.

Roots of Empathy

The Roots of Empathy initiative in child and school education founded by Mary Gordon aims to provide “emotional education” linked to social skills . Through a direct social interaction with a toddler monitored by the mother and the teacher, pupils and their class members can learn to change perspective in order to develop empathy and sympathy. The foundation "Gesellschaft macht Schule" helps schoolchildren to discover their potential, for example through the personal development and values project , in which children playfully learn social skills such as non-violent conflict management and respectful and friendly interaction with one another. Carlotas offers students space to express their experiences and emotions - with the help of art - so that they learn to perceive and practice their ability to empathize, to meet diversity in society with openness and respect, and to separate perfection from satisfaction. Activities are carried out with the aim of imparting experiences that help the students to come to terms with the world in which they live.

Empathy as a Research Subject

Operationalization and measurement

The great importance of empathy for accomplishing practical tasks in different areas of life seems to be undisputed in most sciences. One problem is the unmanageable number of (ambiguous) definitions and (subjective) interpretations of this term. Only by operationalizing this construct is it possible to develop reliable and valid models in order to be able to derive serious recommendations for action. Various physiological procedures and psychological tests have been developed to operationalize and measure empathy. One example is the Interpersonal Reactivity Index by Mark Davis , which is also available in a German version . This index consists of four scales:

  1. Fantasy Scale for measuring the ability to empathize as an actor in fictional stories and to act accordingly.
  2. Perspective Thinking to assess the ability to understand another person's point of view, that is, to “see the world through one's eyes” (cognitive empathy).
  3. Empathic Concern to measure sympathy for others and the ability to understand their feelings (emotional empathy).
  4. Personal distress to record the personal concern when other people get into emotionally stressful situations or hardships.

Judith Hall and co-authors wrote in 2001 that this test and its numerous modifications have proven themselves in practice: "... they have been used with considerable success with adults and adolescents".

Empathy as a key competence : definition and measurement

In a more recent study, Nathan Spreng and co-authors developed the “Toronto Empathy Questionnaire” from around 20 instruments for measuring empathy and validated it with the help of three empirical surveys with 200, 79 and 64 test subjects. What is special about this test (questionnaire) is the operationalization of empathy as a skill with concrete behavioral descriptions. This is the first step towards a definition of empathy as a learnable or trainable competence (empathy ability). Accordingly, empathy can be measured using the following five dimensions or scales:

  1. Correctly deciphering non-verbal messages
  2. Feeling the same emotions as others (compassion)
  3. Experiencing similar thoughts and memories
  4. Triggering the same physiological reactions (heartbeat, anxiety, "wet hands" etc.)
  5. Triggering helpful or supportive impulses for action.

The graphic on the right summarizes the core ideas of this concept and shows examples of test items.

brain research

Since the first description of a special type of nerve cells, namely the mirror neurons in the cerebral cortex of rhesus monkeys , there has been discussion about whether and to what extent these nerve cells are connected to the ability to empathize. According to current knowledge, the mirror neurons at least have the property of reacting in the same way, regardless of whether the macaque shows a certain external behavior itself or whether it observes this behavior in others.

Studies of mirror neurons suggest a connection between imitation behavior and the ability to empathize, for example when yawning and laughing contagiously . However, this phenomenon is called emotional contagion and in no way empathy in the sense described above (according to Freud and Theodor Lipps ). This mix-up or confusion can also be found quite often in scientific texts.

A study published in 2017 examined the influence of emotions on empathy. Participants were shown videos of emotions, followed by pain-related images, and their response to these images was measured. The results of the study suggest that the neural response to other people's pain is stronger when a subject has recently experienced positive emotions and less when they were negative emotions.

Behavioral research

The behavioral scientist and zoologist Frans de Waal sees the human capacity for empathy as part of our evolutionary heritage on which the prerequisites for social and moral behavior are based.

Studies suggest that, besides humans, many animals show empathically motivated behavior. These include - in addition to primates, in which such behavior was expected - for example ravens, mice and rats. It is also believed that dogs show empathic behavior towards each other and towards people.

Affective isomorphism: the role of the emotional state of the empathizer

In phenomenology , empathy describes the experience of something from the perspective of the other, without any confusion between the self and the other. In most aspects, however, the experience is modified so that what is experienced is experienced as the experience of the other; in the experience of empathy, what is experienced is not my experience, even if I have experienced it. Empathy is also seen as a state of intersubjectivity and thus as the source of the constitution of objectivity. A scientific and philosophical debate revolves around the question of the extent to which a person has to share the affective state of another person in order to feel empathy. In other words, do I have to feel a certain emotion to be empathic? The state in which the affective state of the empathizer is similar to that of the target person is called affective isomorphism . To what extent such a person has to be present in order to feel empathy is controversial. In particular, theorists who follow the phenomenological tradition reject the assumption of affective isomorphism. Scientists at the Charité in Berlin investigated the extent to which there are connections between subjectively reported empathy (measured with an established empathy test) and physiological measurements of affective arousal (skin conductivity, heart rate, measurement of frightening stimuli). Contrary to the assumptions of the authors, a negative correlation was found: the participants show less empathy if they themselves show signs of increased emotional activation when viewing an emotional scene or other people's emotional expressions and is possibly the result of increased self-awareness and focus on their own emotions .

Applications of empathy

  • In psychotherapy , empathy means a strategy of transferring moods from the patient to the therapist. This enables the therapist to experience the emotions and mood of the patient in himself and thus better understand them. It is an active process of empathic understanding . This is necessary because patients usually deny, reject, fight or avoid stressful emotions. The therapist must therefore adopt a corrective, accepting and appreciative attitude so that he can better understand the stressful emotions and initiate suitable therapeutic measures more effectively.
  • In management and especially in the direct leadership of employees, the motivation , commitment and motivation of employees play a central role. The motives and motivations of the employees on which their behavior is based cannot be observed directly; they can essentially only be accessed through empathy. In addition, many motives are not even aware of those affected and can change depending on the situation. Basically you can only motivate other people (or avoid demotivation) if you understand them not only rationally, but above all sympathetically. For these reasons, empathy is an essential part of leadership skills .
  • In marketing , especially in personal sales and the marketing of knowledge and technology-intensive products and services, it is important that the employees concerned empathize with the customer's world of thoughts and emotions and that the offer is as appropriate as possible to his - often unspoken - Being able to align motives and wishes. Empathy is therefore an essential prerequisite for the efficient design of the sales process and particularly important in the development of sales skills .
  • An example from psychology is the concept of “ social intelligence ”, the starting point for research on “ emotional intelligence ” by David Wechsler , which occupies a key position in this discipline as well as in management theory and is now known as “ self-regulation "And" Volition "has been further developed.

Empathy in Psychiatry

In classic German psychiatry , empathy was used as a criterion for differentiating between neurosis and psychosis until the 1970s . The psychosis or the mental illness was seen in particular as an incomprehensible and also incomprehensible mental manifestation.

Empathy in Psychoanalysis

In psychoanalysis , the terms empathy and empathy are used with almost the same meaning, so that the presentation of this term, which is central to psychoanalysis, must include both terms. Sigmund Freud used the term empathy, then the use of the Greek language root in English with empathy was translated and from the Anglo-American literature in English as empathy back. In the Romance-speaking area, too, the term empatia is synonymous with the German word empathy .

Psychoanalytic treatment

After Freud had turned away from hypnosis in his treatment technique, on the one hand he attached such central importance to empathy as access to the patient that he declared it to be the basic condition of psychoanalytic treatment. He understood it as the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another person, and thus as an access to knowledge through which in particular that which is initially foreign to the patient can be understood. At the same time, it serves to build a positive relationship, which one can forfeit if one z. B. assume a judgmental position. On the other hand, Freud contrasts empathy with a more distant attitude, which is important in order to maintain the working relationship, and because he feared excessive movement with the neurotic parts and above all the sexually tinged transference feelings of the patient.

With regard to questions of treatment, the discourse around these two poles takes up a large space. What the different expressions and emphases have in common is the statement that empathy can differentiate between one's own feelings and those of the other. This is what distinguishes them from identification, which is not. In the Handbook of Basic Psychoanalytic Concepts , Milch highlights four aspects of the psychoanalytic definition of empathy. Empathy therefore means: “1. a relationship between two people, 2. maintaining the boundaries between self and object, 3. an intrapsychic experience, 4. general human ability or therapeutic capacity including knowledge, understanding and perception of the experience of another person. ”In psychoanalysis, empathy is considered to be the possibility of a preconscious, emotional knowledge that has to be brought together with knowledge and intellectual knowledge. This view leads to the concept of empathic and scenic understanding by Hermann Argelander and Alfred Lorenzer .

With Heinz Kohut and the self-psychology he founded , empathy becomes the decisive factor in psychoanalytic treatment. It is no longer just the awareness of the previously unconscious that brings about the healing of the self, but this is made possible primarily by the analyst accompanying the patient with appropriate empathy. As a result, he can have a new corrective relationship experience within the framework of protective abstinence , and gradually incorporate this into his own psychological organization, so that a transforming internalization occurs. With the emphasis on this aspect of the relationship, which numerous psychoanalysts followed with Kohut, the work of cognitive understanding and interpretation was not given up. According to the Italian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Stefano Bolognini, the author of a comprehensive synopsis of the psychoanalytic concepts of empathy, feeling with the patient and thinking about him are inseparable from the core of psychoanalytic treatment.

Connections and continuations

In the context of developmental psychology, there is a correlation between maternal empathy and the creation of a secure bond in the sense of attachment theory . The findings can also be found in a generally understandable form in advisory publications for parents.

Links and delimitations exist in the treatment context to the psychoanalytic concepts of countertransference and projective identification .

The concept of mentalization can be seen as a continuation .

Abusing empathy for manipulative purposes

Immanuel Kant is one of the first scholars to point out the possible abuse of empathy by politicians in a people's rule (democracy). In the future, power over the people will no longer be held by the Lord of the sword, but by the Master of the Word . Wolf Schneider has compiled a few quotes that show that empathizing with people's thoughts and emotions through politicians, the mass media or journalists is an important prerequisite for effective manipulation :

  • The language is popular and simple. Joseph Goebbels : "Because we spoke the language of the people, we have conquered the people".
  • Stimulus words are tirelessly repeated, because simply repeating a stimulus is enough to trigger sympathy. Heinrich von Kleist : "What is said to the people three times, the people consider to be true"; Goebbels: “The people don't always want new impressions, they want the old impressions in an increasingly refined form”.
  • One aims at feeling: Hitler: "The overwhelming majority of the people is so feminine and minded that it is less sober consideration than emotional feeling that determines its thinking and action". It is important to “awaken and whip up the instinct”.
  • What is the shortest way to the heart? According to William Gerard Hamilton (1729–1796) , the most widespread instincts and passions that must be incited are envy , fear , desires, hopes and hatred .

Today politicians as well as intellectuals and (commercial) mass media run this “business” with feelings (keyword audience ratings ). According to Joseph Schumpeter , this creates a hostile social atmosphere that threatens capitalism's existence. The reason: According to Schumpeter, the masses of the people never develop firm views on their own initiative. Rather, there is a need for groups in whose interests it is to increase, organize, cherish and nurture the resentment . The development of revolts by triggering the particularly effective, negative emotions such as fear, envy, anger, frustration or powerlessness is a business that pays off if it is successful (circulation sold, popularity, etc.). The intellectual profession, including journalists in particular, plays a decisive role in this. This group of people is proficient in dealing with the spoken or written word - however, they are not responsible for practical things (or for the consequences of their actions). It also lacks first-hand information that can only be obtained through actual experience. In conclusion, Schumpeter asks the rhetorical question of whether we are dealing with people "... who talk about everything because they don't understand anything?"

Empathic fatigue disorder

Excessive compassion can lead to empathic distress fatigue. This is especially true when there is pathological altruism . The medical risks here are exhaustion ( burnout ), feelings of guilt , shame , fear and depression .

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: empathy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b empathy. In: Dorsch: Lexicon of Psychology. Hogrefe Verlag, Göttingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-456-85643-8 ( Empathy. Dorsch: Lexicon of Psychology Online. Archived ( Memento from December 6, 2018 in the Internet Archive )).
  2. empathy. Lexicon of Neuroscience. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2000 ( archived ( memento of December 6, 2018 in the Internet Archive )).
  3. ^ JA Hall, FJ Bernieri: Interpersonal Sensitivity, Theory and Measurement. London 2001, p. 21 f. and Paul Ekman : Reading Feelings. Spektrum Verlag, 2007, p. 249. (2nd edition 2010, (paperback)); English-language original 2003: Emotions revealed. Understanding faces and feelings .
  4. See the research on empathy by the neuroscientist Tania Singer: Empathy versus compassion. In: Tania Singer, Mathias Bolz (ed.): Compassion in everyday life and research. E-book , 2013, chap. 15, pp. 282-297.
  5. Doris Bischof-Köhler: Social Development in Childhood and Adolescence: Attachment, Empathy, Theory of Mind. W. Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-17-021553-5 .
  6. Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence. 1997, p. 127.
  7. PDV 100, 3.4.1.:5, after Martin Winter: Power and function of the police in the Federal Republic of Germany. 1998, p. 343.
  8. εμπάθεια at komvos.edu.gr and εμπάθεια at in.gr (Greek-English)
  9. ^ Empathy , Dictionary.com
  10. etymonline.com
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