A Rich and Full Description of Empathy

Of all the blogs we have written, this one requires more time to take in and understand. It is very difficult to communicate a rich and full description of empathy in just words since empathy is a complex and profound experience. However, we will give it a try.

One famous literary quote comes close: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Here is our own definition of empathy:

Authentically attending to the speaker’s verbal and non-verbal messages, experiencing the speaker’s inner world, understanding it, mirroring back its essence, so the speaker feels seen or heard, usually resulting in the speaker deepening his or her experience

It has seven components:

  1. Authentically, (meaning the listener’s empathy has to be genuine or real)
  2. attending to the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal messages, (meaning empathy involves tuning into both types of messages)
  3. experiencing the speaker’s inner world, (meaning you must temporarily suspend your own point of view to experience the speaker’s point of view)
  4. understanding it, (meaning you comprehend the meaning of the speaker’s feelings and words)
  5. mirroring back its essence, (meaning you must communicate back your understanding to the speaker)
  6. so the speaker feels "seen" or "heard," (meaning your understanding resonates or vibrates with what the speaker has said)
  7. usually resulting in the speaker deepening his experience and sharing a further layer of it (meaning the speaker spontaneously connects to new feelings and thoughts that were previously unconscious).

If you want to deepen your understanding of empathy, we suggest you:

  • Discuss this blog with someone you know
  • Write down your own description of empathy
  • Consider taking the June 4, UCLA Extension Empathy Training workshop

Send us your comments, insights, and discoveries after reflecting about the blog.