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Empathy vs Compassion / ep40 show notes

Updated: Mar 27, 2020


What is it? - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

  • Webster’s: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

Affective empathy - the sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions; can include mirroring feelings

Cognitive empathy - perspective taking; our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions

Other words related to empathy: Understanding, sharing, awareness, sensitive, vicariously, experiencing, sensing emotions, empathy and personal growth

Build social connections with others

Helps you learn to regulate your own emotions

Promotes helping behaviors

Polyvagal state - Safe & Social


What it is - Kindness, caring, a willingness to help others

Empathy + wanting to help = Compassion

Requires being in safe state while also down the ladder

  • Being anchored in safety while tapping into the defensive state and feeling it

Necessary for helping professions

Being empathetic is not enough

  • Signals danger to someone already in danger

  • Shows pain, shock

  • Client or patient’s story will shift, thinking they are causing the shock or the pain

We may evaluate the empathetic pain

  • Being down the ladder w/o the safety makes us evaluative

What is Empathy? - Greater Good Magazine -

Importance and Benefits of Empathy, Kendra Cherry -

96 views2 comments


Justin Sunseri, LMFT
Justin Sunseri, LMFT
Dec 05, 2019

To Tara - It depends on who you're asking. Mercedes would probably agree with you, that empathy has a cognitive understanding to it and not necessarily an experience that goes along with it. I would say empathy is more of an emotional, experiential thing. I experience state shifts along with my clients that gives me a lot of insight into how to work with them. I feel sympathetic and even dorsal activation along with them. Not as intensely, but it's there. But that's just because I'm well anchored in my ventral state (my window of tolerance/vagal brake is able to handle it). On top of the state shifts, I feel doses of their emotions: sadness, anxiety, connection, hope, pa…


Tara Crowl
Tara Crowl
Dec 05, 2019

Great episode. I could feel you trying to get through the concept of actually feeling our clients experience. Maybe a way to get the concept past the cognitive level is to say we can feel what our client is feeling without truly EXPERIENCING it. That's why we don't drop down to fight or flight. When we can feel it in that way, we have greater access to the language to connect. When we connect on that greater level they KNOW we really get it, but that we're calm and in a place to truly help them. Without feeling what they're going through, there is a distance or thin wall still between us that blocks depth of connection. That's my experience.…


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