The Different Kinds of Empathy


I recently listened to a podcast (one of my favorite!) from The Model Health Show with Shawn Stevenson. He interviewed Dr. Austin Perlmutter, New York Times best-selling co-author of “Brainwash” (one of my favorite books!). They discussed many things on the episode, from diet to immune function to greater mental well-being. One topic that really stood out and resonated with me was the topic of empathy.

Dr. Perlmutter described empathy in a profound and practical way. He talked about different components or types, which directly resonated with me because the different aspects are closely related to cognitive behavioral therapy. Or, more specifically, thinking, feeling and acting.

3 Kinds of Empathy

The thinking kind or cognitive empathy: you can relate to somebody and put yourself in their shoes psychologically. You understand and know what they are going through because you, for example, experienced the same thing at one point in time. Or have experience in those kinds of situations.

The feeling kind of empathy or emotional empathy: If somebody is sad, or depressed, or hurt, you literally feel those emotions in your body as well. You get slightly sad, upset or depressed because they are. Your bodily functions and chemistry change to reflect their state of being.

The acting kind of empathy, or compassion: you psychologically put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, you understand what they’re going through, you literally feel their pain or their emotions, and then you are moved to take action towards them. You deploy compassion or altruism and physically act your empathy out to better their lives.

There are so many profound benefits to living a life with greater empathy. Some include lower stress levels, better social connection, and less burnout at work. But perhaps the greatest benefit is to understand the different kinds and make sure you deploy compassion because the benefit will be for the other person. Yes you will still derive benefits, but it’s maybe for nothing if you don’t take that empathy and improve somebody else’s life with it. 

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