It turns out there are actually three kinds of empathy, and they all have different effects on the way you interact with people.
Cognitive empathy is the understanding of how other people think. You are able to genuinely comprehend the processes and pressures affecting people’s lives and decisions.
Emotional Empathy is the ability to sense what others are feeling, and even share in those emotions. That’s the kind of empathy that people often describe as “being an empath.”
Caretaking Empathy, also known as empathic concern, is the kind of empathy a parent feels for a child. It is the empathy that leads you to care about helping others.
The capacity for all three kinds of empathy are present in different degrees in emotionally healthy people, but it is a skill than can be developed to a greater or lesser degree. You are not born with the maximum amount of empathy you will ever possess. Knowing the three kinds of empathy lets you consider your own empathy, and know which type you could be strengthening.
Empathy is important in our professional and personal lives. It lets us connect fully with our loved ones and our colleagues. In the international development world, an empathy-informed program design treats program partners as full humans, not objects to be acted in.
[reference: Empathy: A Social Psychological Approach, by Mark H Davis, Westview Press, 1996. Amazon affiliate link.]