There are many different definitions for Empathy, but there is no single agreed upon definition. There are also several different ways to explain the process of Empathy. We've discussed some of the other types in earlier blogs, if you've already read through them. Here is another, that we will try to look at in more depth.
Reik(1949) describes four stages of the empathy process:
1. Identification – projecting self into the other
2. Incorporation – interjecting the other into self
3. Reverberation – interplaying of own and other experience
4. Detachment – withdrawal from subjective involvement and recourse to use of methods of reason.
This process involves the negotiation of communicative goals between two participants. Empathy will be effectuated to the degree that the participators' goals are mutually achieved.
It is important to note that the communicative acts that occur between doctors and patients, teachers and students, parents and children, counselors and patients, religious leaders and congregation, constitute a special set of interactions characterized by an asymmetry of participant roles and responsibilities. What this means is that, by their position and/or title, one of the participants is placed in a higher place than the other.
How do these types of relationships differ from that of the Empath, when they are interacting with another on an Empathic level? The largest difference here can be found within the level in which an Empath places themselves in, in respect to the other person. The connection is not asymmetric in design, and instead is one of equality, where in the Empath stands toe to toe and eye to eye with the other person. It is a form of peer counseling, instead of one of condescention, where in the doctor, parent, religious leader, or counselor listens to the problems of a patient with empathetic detachment.
The Process Of Empathy
1. Identification is something we've been over in a number of different blogs. But it is necessary to go over it here, as well, simply to further the understanding of the Empathic Process.
Identification is a psychological process whereby the subject assimilates an aspect, property or attribute of the other and is transformed, wholly or partially, after the model the other provides. In its slighter form, Identification involves seeing oneself in another. But in this case, Identification means taking in something from the other and being affected/changed by what is taken in - it is an incorporation.
2. Incorporation is the process by which the Empath takes in the other person's experiences and feels them as though they were his/her own. This is the process of literally 'walking a mile in another person's shoes' or 'seeing through another person's eyes'.
On a side note, the first two steps of this process are used to form emotional bonds with others, to quicken,deepen and facilitate the Empathic Process.
3. Reverberation is the internal comparative analysis of shared or similar experiences between the Empath and the other participant used in order to find a correlation between the two, so that relating to the other person, despite any differences, is made all the easier.
4. Detachment occurs when the Empath disengages from the emotional connection that was formed at the start of the Empathic Process. This is a very necessary step that can not be overlooked. Otherwise the Empath will begin to carry around other people's baggage, as well as their own. And this can lead to an overwhelming feeling akin to drowning or sufficating.
So thats about it for this blog. I merely wanted to briefly go over this particular process, because I found it facinating. I hope it has offered you a bit of food for thought.