There are at least 2 components of empathy, cognitive empathy and affective or emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy is “knowing the feelings of others”, being aware of how others experience a certain situation. However, there is a kind of disadvantage aspect of this type of empathy. In addition, this characteristic may also be found in people who tend to be indifferent and careless to other people’s existence such as sociopaths and narcissists. On the other hand, emotional empathy is feeling along with others, especially with care; sharing what others may feel such as anger, sadness, excitement, or joy. Though this might be absent in some areas or aspect, this is the general nature of empathic persons. These are the traits sociopaths and narcissists lack, the ability to process the situation emotionally with regards to the welfare of other people.
Normally when we are affected by the suffering of others, that impact will motivate us to help them or others. Although sometimes we cannot do anything or intentionally avoid the situation because no one can stand suffering and hardship all the time; but essentially, empathy makes us take care of each as humans as we understand each other’s experience through our own and this also ties to our need to connect and cooperate to each other as a society. Empathy is a very important bond that holds us together all throughout our evolutionary history and without this, society cannot attain real material and spiritual progress. It is innate in us humans and we should focus our attention to it and learn from it more so that we can socially use this natural ability for the good of all.
Empathy is a complex concept. It is observed that healthy amount of empathy still makes our brain able to regulate our impulses and control our actions while we share the experience of others, not fully immersed to the situation and still open to alternative perceptions. This is the known reason why most of us still maintain the sense of consistency to our own scope, pre-determined actions, and environment which we sometimes call culture or sanity. Typically, empathy starts to develop in the early stages of the child’s life (starting at 2 years old) but his or her interactions with others, especially with parents, caregivers or immediate family members, also play a very vital role. However, experts also look at the genetic or the biological factors and many claims that this affects the process or shaping of empathic character in an individual.
So society, genes, and childhood are all factors that play an important role in our empathic development. These things, along with our maturity and wellbeing, influence our ability to empathize or to act in response to the situation of others. However, this empathic ability we have is not constant; meaning that it could sometimes be absent from us especially if we are overwhelmed with strong disappointment or anger and even hatred. Thus, empathy could sometimes be overpowered by so much negative emotions, preventing us from feeling the same amount of compassion or understanding we normally experience as real humans, with sound understanding and judgement. So it could be that sometimes, we forget and succumb to resentment or become neglectful, therefore, indifferent or non-empathic. However, it is really up to each of us to decide and how to look at things around and within us. So before we empathize with others, it might be more appropriate and helpful to empathize with our self first.