Empathy is our ability to think and feel what another person is thinking and feeling. It’s an incredibly important psychological trait that we’ve evolved to experience to help facilitate social interaction, cooperation with one another, solving social conflicts, and creating overall social harmony.
According to psychologists there are 3 different types of empathy: cognitive empathy (thinking what someone is thinking), affective empathy (feeling what someone is feeling), and sympathetic empathy (a combination of the two, coupled with the motivation and drive to take action and do something about it).
It is this last type of empathy – sympathetic empathy – that can sometimes be unhealthy and even destructive in the wrong context and situation. While empathy is a very useful trait, at times it can be misused and abused.
For example, we are all familiar with how people elicit empathy from others in order to manipulate them, whether it’s a commercial trying to make you feel a certain way to buy a product, or a politician trying to make you feel a certain way to vote for them, or even a person you know trying to make you feel a certain way to change your behavior (such as maybe through guilt-tripping or shaming you).
It’s important to be attuned to the emotions others express toward us, but at the same time we can’t let these emotions run wild and dictate our behavior.