Edwin Rutsch
Definition of Empathy

Edwin's Basic Definition

Empathy -- is a Way of Being. In a broader understanding and view, empathy is a way of being in relationship with life. It is sensing into life with presence, deep listening, openness and care versus being judgmental, indifferent, detached, domineering, analytical, etc. It is being sensitive to felt experiences and meaning in oneself, others and relationships. This way of being is multi faceted. Some of the many facets are:

Empathy -- with others

      • is a moment to moment sensing and feeling into the experiencing (feelings, thoughts, meanings, desires, etc.) of others.

      • is a deep form of presence and listening.

      • This quality of sensing into others can be deepened or blocked.


  • is a moment to moment sensing into one's own experiencing (feelings, thoughts, meanings, desires, etc.)

  • This quality of sensing into self can be deepened or blocked.

Imaginative Empathy

  • Is imagining oneself in a role or perspective. Taking on a perspective and sensing what arises in oneself in that role or perspective. There are unlimited contexts for imagination.

  • This quality of imagination can be deepened or blocked.

Relational Empathy

  • Is an awareness of the quality and level of empathy in the relationship. This is the level of mutual empathy between the people in the relationship. It is the quality of sensing into the experience of each other, the relationships and society.

  • This quality of awareness can be deepened or blocked.

Empathic Action

  • Is a mutually empathically negotiated process of making mutual agreements and action together.

Culture of Empathy

  • Is being aware of the level of empathy in an entire culture and working to raise that level.

Defining Empathy in the Context of an Empathy Circle.

It can be helpful to define empathy in the context of the Empathy Circle practice. This way we can more clearly point to actual experiences that happen and name them. Anyone can take part in an Empathy Circle and then can experience the different facet of an empathic way of being.


These definitions have the quality of sensing into.

  • Kohut [63] stated that empathy “is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person”.

  • Rogers [64] stated that empathy is “to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the ‘as if’ condition. Thus, it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth”.

An Early Typology