The Cognitive Empath Vs. The Emotional Empath

When you break down the different types of Empaths, what you will usually find is that there are two types of Empaths, or two levels of empathy. These are the Cognitive Empath (cognitive level) and the Emotional Empath (emotional level). Some people tend to polarize toward one type, while avoiding the other, but to be an effective Empath, and one who is truly balanced at that, one must learn to cultivate both in balance. So lets look at each of these types of Empaths in a little more depth.

Empathy is the capability to share your feelings and understand another’s emotion and feelings. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes,” or in some way experience what the other person is feeling. Empathy does not necessarily imply compassion, sympathy, or empathic concern because this capacity can be present in context of compassionate or cruel behavior.

Emotional Empathy occurs when you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious. This kind of Empathy makes someone well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world.

Cognitive Empathy is having a consciousness of the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them, which requires the consciousness of our egocentric tendency to identify truth with our immediate perceptions of long-standing thought or belief.

The rest of these definitions are offered up to help supplement your understanding of each of the different types of Empathy, the Cognitive and the Emotional.

Empathic Concern refers to other-oriented emotions elicited by and congruent with the perceived welfare of someone in need. These other-oriented emotions include feelings of tenderness ,sympathy, compassion, soft-heartedness, and the like. Empathic concern is often and wrongly confused with empathy. To empathize is to respond to another’s perceived emotional state by experiencing feeling of a similar sort. Empathic concern or sympathy not only include empathizing, but also entails having a positive regard or a non-fleeting concern for the other person.

A Mirror Neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another animal (especially by another animal of the same species). Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting.

Emotional Contagion is the tendency to catch and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others. A broader definition would be, a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.

Perspective Taking is the ability to see things from a point of view other than one’s own. The stages of this process are listed below:

1. a person recognizing that the self and others can have different thoughts and feelings.
2. a person understanding that different perspectives may occur because individual people are privy to different information.
3. a person can see through another person’s eyes and view their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors from the other person’s perspective. They also recognize that others can do the same.
a person can step away from a one on one situation and imagine how both parties are viewed from a third party perspective.
5. a person understands that third-party perspective taking can be manipulated by a system of cultural and/or social values.

The Emotional Empath

Emotional Empathy is considered the more basic of the two types of Empathy, in that it has as much to do with emotional contagion as it does with the mirror neuron system. The explanation behind this reasoning is that Emotional Empathy is based, not on the cognitive process of placing oneself into another’s shoes vicariously, but in feeling what the other person feels. It is a type of emotional mimicry, which is done instinctively instead of cognitively, to better understand the person being imitated. Recent studies have shown, particularly in primates, that this occurs because of something called a mirror neuron. In these studies it was shown that “immediate social bonding between strangers is highly dependent on mimicry, a synchronized and usually unconscious give and take of words and gestures that creates a current of good will between two people.”

In understanding this, you begin to understand why people are drawn to you like moths to a flame. This is particularly true of strangers who, within 5 minutes of meeting you, share their life stories, traumas and problems with you. They see something within you, that you are probably not even aware of sending out, that is similar to themselves which makes them comfortable enough to share their problems openly with you.

The meaning of Emotional Empathy then deepens to include not just sharing the same feelings as the other person, but also includes the body language and the nonverbal communications you send to the other person, on an unconscious level, to set them at ease when in your presence. In this the Emotional Empath quite literally shapeshifts or reflects everything they are receiving from the person they are speaking with, which I’ve come to think of as Empathic Shapeshifting.

All of this, though, is done on an unconscious level, and rises out of the Emotional Empath on an instinctive level, like that of ‘fight or flight’. It is also, quite often, born out of a survival instinct in those who have been abused in some way, and resembles a type of camafloge worn to blend into and/or conform with the Emotional Empath’s surroundings and peer group. This skill then becomes honed toward those in need (those that the Emotional Empath can relate to because of shared pain), when the trauma or episode of abuse is over. Carl Jung offered an archetype for this type of person in the Wounded Healer archetype.

The Cognitive Empath

Cognitive Empathy, which is considered to be the more advanced part of the empathic process, is having a consciousness of the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them, which requires the consciousness of our egocentric tendency to identify truth with our immediate perceptions of long-standing thought or belief. This trait correlates with the ability, called Perspective Taking, to reconstruct accurately the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than our own. This trait also correlates with the willingness to remember occasions when we were wrong in the past despite an intense conviction that we were right, and with the ability to imagine our being similarly deceived in a case-at-hand.

To elaborate, it is the literal process of putting oneself into the shoes of another person and seeing their experiences through their own eyes, through the act of imagining and the process of visualization. An example would be if you have ever read a true account of someone else’s suffering, or a trauma they have experienced in their lives, in explicit detail, and you literally place yourself, in a first person perspective, in that person’s shoes and feel their suffering right along with them.

The reason that Cognitive Empathy is considered the more advanced of the two types of Empathy is because the actual process of it is brought to the conscious mind, where the Empath is able to visualize and understand experiences that are not their own, instead of it being an instinctive response to a random person.

When the process of Empathy is brought to the conscious mind it becomes a process with steps that can be readily understood, instead of something cloaked in mystery. And when an Empath is able to understand this process, it can then be focused and manipulated in such a way as not to overwhelm the Empath emotionally anymore. Its like a life raft being thrown to a drowning soul, who is drowning in a sea of other people’s emotions.

Empathic Concern

Most people display different levels of Empathy, but what sets an Empath apart from the fringe is their real Empathic Concern for others. This is true for those who display either Emotional or Cognitive Empathy.

Sometimes someone with Emotional Empathy, but no Empathic Concern, will feel what others feel and, in essence, turn into a drama king/queen because they have no where to put the emotions that are welling up inside of them. Because there is no true concern for the other person, it becomes a means to further their need for attention.

In this case, there may also be some issues of being emotionally dissociative, because it is easier to handle other people’s emotions, because of their vicarious nature, rather than deal with their own life issues, problems, and emotions.

There are also those who display traits of Cognitive Empathy, who have no real Empathic Concern for those around them. Often times these types (Machiavellian, Narcissistic, Sociopathic) are adept at understanding people and their emotions. But without Empathic Concern, it simply becomes an act of abuse and/or manipulation toward the other person, because this type’s base of concern is always egocentric.

Questions arise in this type of person such as, ‘How can this person benefit me?’, ‘What is this person’s weakest point and how can I use that against them?’, and ‘Can this person serve me in any other way or should I throw them away now?’ Its all about ‘me’ and how you will serve as a pawn to that person.

So in all of this, we come to the most basic point. To be an effective and functioning Empath, one must have balance of Emotional Empathy, Cognitive Empathy, and Empathic Concern. And while its true that they can function without the other parts, it is recommended that one cultivate all three to be able to truly cope with this gift. This is because Emotional Empathy, without Cognitive Empathy, has no true direction or purpose. And Cognitive Empathy without Emotional Empathy, can be as cold and calculating as a laboratory. And both without Empathic Concern, well its the same as those reason stated above.


~ by Misuchi Sakurai on June 1, 2009.

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