What is empathy and do you really have it?


I cant say I honestly have empathy for women in general because I’ve never been one myself. I can empathise with socially anxious women, shy, fear of public speaking. But the connection is shyness only.

I honestly think we can fool ourselves in thinking how kind we are. the reality may be quite different to how we see it. Maybe it is easier to have empathy with people if we have shared a similar life experience. I can empathise with teachers for instance because I was one once. And I can exspecially empathise with teachers who struggled to do their job.

We gain empathy as we get older, don’t we? Im starting to have more empathy for older folk now, being 60 myself. Its no fun getting old, knowing the time ahead is shorter than the time behind. That is where Christian faith comes in, I hear you say loudly and clearly.


I agree with all you say here, and would only add that I think I have “selective” empathy for certain people, and not for others, in certain situations and not in others, when I am in certain moods and not others. But in general I have more empathy now than when I was young, and not only for older people.


Suffering can make us more empathetic. Not necessarily though. I cant imagine what it is like to have a serious disability for example.


I’ll tell you specifically that I’ve developed in the last few years great empathy for people who suffer from neurofibromatosis, especially as I’ve learned more and more about the disorder. This is a genetic disorder usually inherited but sometimes the result of spontaneous mutation. It manifests itself in unsightly tumors all over the body and internally as well. There are also several other symptoms. Cases vary from mild to severe. Why I developed this particular empathy I do not know. I do not have the disorder, nor does anyone in my family. I have also always, as far back as I remember, had empathy for people who suffer from profound mental impairment (what used to be called in un-PC days mental retardation). This is an immediate empathy I feel. But in certain other cases, which will remain unspecified, I have less or no empathy.


Ive met a guy with severe MND (Motor Neurone Disease). That is one of the most hideous things to get.


Empathy is a gift though and not all of us have it. And in a Christian context, we can make a real difference to peoples’ lives, if they feel listened to and cared for. I sometimes think that naturally kind people are the greatest gift to humanity. the rest of us can only try to do half as good a job.


I’m trying to be empathetic in order to form some kind of reply…but it’s not working, so I’ll just answer straight up.

I can’t be sure…that’s my answer to both questions.


I feel your pain…….


While carrying badge and gun, I had much empathy for victims of domestic violence. Tried my best to encourage and convince them of the control that they actually had over their lives.

OK, here’s an interesting example of empathy: My brother died in 1994 at the age of 43. A tormented, very unhappy life. The single bright spot is when he was baptized as an adult. Other than that, it was mental illness, alcohol and drugs.

So, I asked for bereavement leave from my employer (a municipality). They went straight to the contract and noted that “brother” had inadvertently been omitted from the list of family members for which bereavement leave would be granted. They denied it.

A few months later, I was riding a public transit bus back from jury selection. I heard my name called out (OhOh!). It was an infamous local meth head/auto thief. He came up and said to me, “Hey, I’m sorry to hear about your brother,” I thanked him and we rode on.

The local drug addict and thief was far more empathetic than my employer - something that I will always remember.


I don’t think I have much of an issue with empathising with people in general, I mean regarding the human side of things… where they’re upset, angry, suffering etc. In fact, I’d say it comes fairly easily, regardless of their age or sex. I try to treat other people as a parent, or a sibling, my friend, my child… actually that’s how I try to love my neighbour as myself.

Where I do have difficulty is when I’m obliged to listen to the same issue over and over and over and over again. This does require some effort for me when I find something tedious. I find I need to refocus, because this is something that’s troubling to somebody else, even though I’ve become really sick of hearing about it.

Another area where I could struggle is when it’s material goods… like, if someone’s product didn’t arrive on time. This is just an example but it’s this area that doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to put in a little effort to see it from their point of view.

Unfortunately you find that sometimes… People who are supposed to care, sometimes don’t, while those you expect not to often do. Sorry about your brother, though x


This is so true.
Even if you can’t have empathy for a person,are you able to have compassion for them?

Is there a certain situation or person that you find it hard to have empathy for?


Empathy is a feeling, but kindness/charity is an action. Feeling empathy is something that comes more naturally to others and yes, I think the more experience you have with people, the more you can empathize with them. Lots of people struggle with empathy, but that does not exclude them from the call to be charitable. I don’t remember who I heard it from, but once on the radio someone said something along the lines of “for those who don’t experience empathy, we have discipline.” The word “discipline” might have been “the law”, but I can’t remember. The idea was that if we lived in a perfect world where everyone had perfect empathy, there would be automatic justice. But for the times that empathy fails, we have laws, rules, discipline, self-regulation, and religion. In other words, you don’t have to feel sorry for the poor, but you do have to discipline yourself to help protect them. You don’t have to have warm fuzzies for the coworker you can’t stand, but you have to discipline yourself to not punch them in the face even if they deserve it.


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In “not so good situations” I believe it is tightly knit with compassion.

Example, your neighbour wins the lottery, I don’t think anybody would feel compassion for this neighbour but, we can put ourselves and his position and feel what it would be like if we won the lottery ourselves. The excitement, the plans, the fear, the happiness, etc. etc. This would be empathy, but not necessarily compassion.

Another example, you find out your neighbour can’t pay the rent (for whatever reason, he lost his job, bad investment, an emergency that left him without cash) and he is a nervous wreck. If you have lived this situation closely, be it own experience or having seen it before, you can easily put yourself in his position. “Oh, I don’t know what I would do!”, “That’s a massive headache”, “What’s he going to do for food?” That’s empathy……”Oh, the poor guy, maybe we should help”, “hey I heard this place is hiring maybe I should let him know”, “I will pray for him because that situation is very difficult”, that’s compassion.

Sadly (or happily) I have been cursed (or blessed) with a compassionate heart. Even as a child, I would deeply feel the suffering of others even if I did not understand why they suffered. Hardly ever a nice feeling, always sad when somebody else was sad or unhappy, which was quite often.

But not until I was an adult and had gone through my own hardships did I understand why people were sad, or unhappy or upset. This was when I could say I was “empathic” with people, as I could now picture their situation, and realise why they were sad, or happy or upset. Compassion would then drive me to help….but first I have to understand why they are going through what they are going through.

A clear case of empathy that most of us have gone through……when somebody tells you, “this stupid computer is NOT WORKING!”….and you smile and you say, been there, done that, the thing almost went out the window. :blush: (to a 3 year old, this means nothing….but to you who have struggled with Windows 10….oh boy, yes, you understand and can be empathic.)


some great insights there. thanks.


When someone continues to complain about someone else . Goes on and on and on. I start off feeling some compassion but it gradually dries up and I start to wonder whether the person they are complaining about, might be in the right.


God Bless him. I hope he got turned around :confused:


I think God gives so many opportunities to learn empathy ,we just need to learn to use them .


To me empathy is the ability to understand and share the feeling of others and while this is the ‘societal definition’ as a Christian is goes a little further I think, because the Holy Spirit is involved. So yes I get what you say you feel you dont have empathy for those elements you aren’t, but I think you are forgetting how linked we all are. I am a woman but I am also a child of God as are you. I think because we are all linked by love we can empathise through that whether we are men or woman or one of these people who are lost and do not know what they are. Yes age and experience helps a lot in language and expression of the empathy but empathy is there without language. Haven’t you ever felt sad for someone or sorry or happy etc. even when language is a barrier and you dont know why a child is crying or a crowd is joyful, especially if travelling in a foreign country and people watching… you share in their joy and sadness or fear and may even try to help even if you dont understand the language …. all because you care. That’s basic empathy. The expression of it hampered only by us and the person sharing, our culture, our ability to take time to listen and our interest our ability to communicate etc. personally I think listening is the greatest skill out and also the hardest. If we ask God for it, He gives it. Empathy is there in the listening, in the same way we listen to God. So yes, faith indeed and patience, bucket loads of it. God’s daily lesson to us, patience and then more patience. Or so I am waiting to see anyway.


You integrated the Christian part well.
I feel some members don’t like to talk about empathy because it is in more a psychological/counselling context than a Christian one. Effort to empathise is surely an act of love and charity.


what struck me about your story was more the lack of empathy on your employer’s part than the empathy you received.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.