Edwin's Definition of Empathy

Summary by Violeta Cone

Edwin sees empathy is a broader term, encompassing a way of being in the world, as Rogers put it toward the end of his life. Empathy does include the authentic connection between me and the other person, but also the overall posture of the self that allows for the world, including other selves, to unfold as they feel free to do. This posture is not one of indifference, but rather of an open and caring attitude.

Empathy is more than understanding the other’s feelings, it is relating to them in a multi-faceted, complex way. The metaphor of a diamond with its many sides fits well, as they can all reflect the quality of my connection to the other in different moments.

    • The first facet is the felt empathy where I could only reflect the other accurately as I focus the light of my attention on them and gift them with my time and whole array of experiences.

    • The second facet of the diamond is self-empathy, as I am allowing my feelings and sensations to come forward and I treat them with attention and care. This diamond has a moment-to-moment quality to it, a fluid and ever-changing nature and I can only be true to it as I am true to my sensations.

    • The third facet is the imaginative aspect of empathy: what would it feel like to be you, even when you are judging me? Imagination brings me into something that can be called meta awareness: what is the nature of this felt empathy and how can it constantly readjust and flow with the other.

    • The fourth aspect that Edwin sees is the relational nature of empathy – going beyond the two individuals connecting, but sensing the quality of their relationship, their togetherness. The empathy circles allow that experience to happen in a minimalistic form, so we can practice and explore it.

    • As we continue with the diamond metaphor, a fifth facet would be the empathic action. As we negotiate the action in our togetherness, it takes into account the various levels of seeing each other and our relationship, instead of me looking on your pain and expressing sympathy.

The nature of empathic action implies dismantling of the power dynamic, as I stay in an open posture towards your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. The empathy circles provide us with an opportunity to practice this empathic action and embody it further into our way of being in the world.