Are You Empathic? 3 Types of Empathy and What They Mean
You might recall President Bill Clinton's famous quote, "I feel your pain." It suggested that he had empathy and it made him seem more human and in touch with his constituents. Did he really mean it? And, is feeling someone else's pain a good thing, or a bad thing? Psychologist Mark Davis has suggested that there are 3 important types of empathy. The first is a purely "cognitive" form of empathy that he terms "Perspective-Taking." A second type of empathy, and one that is represented (literally) by Clinton's comment, Davis terms "Personal Distress." Bill Clinton didn't really mean that he felt someone's pain (i.e., vicariously felt the other's emotion). These 3 types of empathy represent different aspects of our personalities. Years ago we conducted a study with hospice nurses caring for terminally-ill patients. In reality, we all have some level of each of the types of empathy.