Empathy psychology

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

Empathy psychology

A friend of mine told me that she doesn't eat meat because she feels really sorry for the cows that are killed in order to provide us with their meat.

While this kind of empathy might seem strange or unusual, in fact it happens because of the same reasons that lets us develop empathy for those who are in need.

I asked my friend why does she feel bad for the sheep or cows and when she answered i found the key to the problem. She felt bad because she couldn't bear seeing an animal or any other creature in a helpless state because that reminded her of her own helplessness.

Why do we have empathy

According to the psychology two possible reasons were behind the feelings of empathy my friend developed:

  • The sheep reminded her of herself!!: The sheep made my friend recall her feelings of helplessness and that's why she felt really bad. We can say that we truly empathize with people when we understand their emotions and even feel them. If you have never felt pain before you would not be able to empathize with someone who is in pain
  • The sheep reminded her of the helplessness of a close person that she can't help: Sometimes seeing a helpless person or a helpless animal reminds us of the helplessness of a close person whom we couldn't help. My friend told me that she can't help someone who is close to her and that makes her feel helpless. On seeing that helpless animals these emotions were unconsciously recalled and she felt bad

Why do some people have more empathy

If you have never experienced a certain kind of loss like the loss of a son or a loss of daughter you might not be able to fully empathize with a person who is facing this problem.

by the way you don't have to experience a certain situation in order to develop empathy for those who face it but just imagining yourself in that situation will let you develop empathy for them.

Empathy is also related to the emotions you experience. You and your friend could be experiencing 2 completely different situations and still you would empathize with him because you both experienced the same emotions.

Just like my friend felt helpless when she saw the sheep, seeing someone else in a bad situation that reminds you of a bad emotion you experienced before will let you empathize with him.

How the mind connects different things together

Even if you didn't notice anything familiar about a person your subconscious mind might have noticed something about that person and connected it to another person or event. For example that old lady you saw in the street might have unconsciously reminded you of your mother and this might be the reason you felt sorry for her.

In this case if you weren't treating your mother well then this woman reminded you of her you will experience empathy without knowing why.

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