Relational Empathy

Relational Empathy Definition

Relational Empathy is an awareness of the nature, 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. The relationship can be with groups of 2 people, or 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. It can be a family, team, community, organization, country, etc. etc.

Self-Empathy In the Empathy Circle

In the Empathy Circle there is the awareness of the level of empathy in the circle with all the participants. We can evaluate the level of empathy in the group.

Relational Empathy

    1. What is an exercise we could do in the empathy circle?

      • On a scale of 1 to 10 what is the level of empathy in this group?

      • What could be done to deepen the level of empathy?

Articles, Papers and Quotes

Relational Empathy: Beyond Modernist Egocentrism to Postmodern Holistic Contextualism
Maureen O'Hara

O’hara, M. (1997). Relational empathy: Beyond modernist egocentricism to postmodern holistic contextualism.

"Our observations show that group or relational empathy may be even more important than individual empathy in the formation of conscious communities."

"The chapter extends understanding of empathy beyond its present role as the "royal road to understanding" of individuals by approaching it from within somewhat different frames of reference from those traditionally characteristic of psychological discussion. Empathy is then discussed in a more multi-levelled or holistic way as a way of being in, belonging to and knowing the relational contexts in which human beings find ourselves situated. Although the main arguments expand understanding of empathy as a therapeutic process the chapter concludes with a discussion of the social conditions of late twentieth century psychology."

Transforming communities: Person-centered encounters and the creation of integral conscious groups
Maureen O'Hara and John K. Wood

"In Rogers' original work a key component of the core facilitative conditions for individual growth is empathy. Empathy has since been shown to be the gold standard for effective facilitation in any growth-focused relationship (Bohart and Tallman 1999). Empathy is commonly regarded as an individual-to-individual phenomenon in which one person senses the unspoken or inchoate thoughts or feelings of another. Our observations show that group or relational empathy may be even more important that individual empathy in the formation of conscious communities. (O'Hara 1997) "

"O'Hara describes relational empathy as that process wherein one attunes to the whole entity--the group. Relational empathy makes it possible to sense the interpersonal dynamics, knowledge, unconscious processes, dreams, images, narratives, concerns, feelings, sensitivities, priorities, fears--in other words the tacit and explicit consciousness--of collectives."

Relational Development Through Mutual Empathy
Judith Jordan

Jordan, J. V. (1997). Relational development through mutual empathy. In A. C. Bohart & L. S. Greenberg (Eds.), Empathy reconsidered: New directions in psychotherapy (pp. 343–351). American Psychological Association.

"Notes that relational-cultural theory offers an alternative to traditional theories of psychological development. Whereas traditional theories view mature functioning as characterized by movement from dependence to independence, relational-cultural theory suggests that maturity involves growth toward connection and relationship throughout the life span. After contrasting these two theoretical perspectives, the author describes a therapeutic approach based on the relational-cultural model, which involves mutual empathy and working with shame. "

A relational-cultural model: Healing through mutual empathy.
Judith Jordan

Jordan, J. V. (2000). A relational-cultural model: Healing through mutual empathy. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 65(1), 92–103.

"The Stone Center for Developmental Studies was established at Wellesley College in 1981 under the leadership of Jean Baker Miller. Miller had written her classic and influential book, Toward a New Psychology of Women, in 1976. In 1978, the original collaborative group began meeting twice monthly to explore the interface of theory and practice in psychotherapy. Combining two missions, the Stone Center group sought to better understand both women’s and men’s development and also hoped to change some of the prevailing models of psychotherapy and psychology. In the course of their investigations, members of the Stone Center began to point to the need for a shift from the prevailing paradigm of “the separate self” in Western psychology to a paradigm of “being-in-relation.” Over time, a distinctive theoretical and clinical approach emerged: relational–cultural theory (RCT). "

Building Relational Empathy Through an Interactive Design Process

Benjamin J. Broome

Broome, B. J., 2009, 'Building Relational Empathy Through an Interactive Design Process', in Handbook of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, eds., D. J. D. Sandole, S. Byrne, I. Sandole-Staroste, and J. Senehi, Routledge, Oxon and New York, pp. 185-200

"The work of this group demonstrates how relational empathy can be built in a protracted conflict situation through an interactive design process. Relational empathy emphasises the co-creation of meaning in a group setting. The interactive design process (‘interactive management’) helps groups deal with complex issues by integrating contributions from individuals with diverse views, backgrounds and perspectives. The theory behind this process draws on both behavioural and cognitive science. "

Relational empathy and the participation in each other’s experience
Charbel El-Hani, 27 July 2020

"In these terms, we locate empathy in relationships among individuals. A notion of situated, relational empathy can then be built, according to which empathy emerges in the relationships themselves. In this sense, empathy is not had by anyone, but it comes to be in-between individuals. The dialogical notion of betweenness, as belonging to the nature of empathy, can be framed by the idea of a ‘third-culture’ that can be understood, supported, and defended by all who shared its development, that is, who worked together in “the construction of a mutually beneficial interactive environment in which individuals from two different cultures can function in a way beneficial to all involved”. Conceived in these terms, empathy is meaning-productive, as much as it is relational. It emerges from a participation in the experience of one another that is not only intellectual, but also — and fundamentally — affective, making it possible to coexist and co-learn despite our differences, no matter how radical they are. "

Seeing Theory in Practice: An Analysis of Empathy in Mediation

Dorothy J. Della Noce

Della Noce, D.J. Seeing Theory in Practice: An Analysis of Empathy in Mediation. Negotiation Journal 15, 229–244 (1999).

"Bush and Folger (1994) in The Promise of Mediation articulated distinctions between Individualist and Relational ideology, and linked them to specific theoretical orientations to mediation practice, problem-solving and transformative, respectively. Yet, a question persists as to whether these distinctions produce any material differences in practice. This question is approached here through an examination of a single construct in the mediation literature, empathy.

The author proposes that the Individualist and Relational ideological frameworks have material implications for the concept and the practice of fostering
empathy between the parties to a mediation: The problem-solving framework fosters a social interaction which can be understood as transactional empathy while the transformative framework fosters an interaction described as relational empathy."

The measurement of self-empathy based on the relational development model: A pilot study.
Christy Adams Clark
Clark, C. A. (Christy Adams Clark) (1999).
Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Wright Institute.

This paper explores the concept of self-empathy from a feminists relational perspective. It includes an academic literature review. So it looks at relational empathy and self-empathy. Self Empathy is seen in the context of relational empathy. The second half of the paper describes a self empathy measure, the Self-Empathy Scale. This is not the important part, but rather the explanation of Self and Relational Empathy.

  • "self-empathy involves the process of having empathy for one’s own thoughts, feelings and experiences"

  • "In the Relational model, self-empathy is inextricably linked to empathy."

  • empathy is,, “the process through which one’s experienced sense of basic connection and similarity to other humans is established" (Jordan, 1991, p. 69).

  • "the Relational view of empathy is more comprehensive than other contemporary social and developmental models of empathy in its emphasis on empathy as an interpersonal process rather than as an individual trait or state."

  • "The Relational perspective on empathy is also more comprehensive because it includes the notion of self-empathy as a necessary component of mutually empathic relationships."

  • "Surrey (1990) describes this two-directional process as having “empathy with” (p. 2) others or as “mutual empathy” (p. 2). In other words, the Relational model stresses the importance of empathy between people in relationships while other models investigate empathy (and its association with other constructs) within the individual."

Jordan and other relational theorists

  • Kaplan, 1991;

  • Miller, 1991;

  • Stiver, 1991;

  • Surrey, Kaplan & Jordan, 1990)

Towards a relational conceptualization of empathy
February 2020
Jolanda van Dijke, Et al.
"Empathy is a fundamental concept in health care and nursing. In academic literature, it has been primarily defined as a personal ability, act or experience. The relational dimensions of empathy have received far less attention. In our view, individualistic conceptualizations are restricted and do not adequately reflect the practice of empathy in daily care. We argue that a relational conceptualization of empathy contributes to a more realistic, nuanced and deeper understanding of the functions and limitations of empathy in professional care practices. "

Development Notes
(material to sort and organize)

Why is relational empathy important?

  • why is the idea of relational empathy important?

  • It points to the importance of the value of mutuality.

  • Usually people talk about you as an individual being empathic or not. While that is important, what is more important is that we are in mutually empathic relationships. So what is the level of empathy in the family? How can it be deepened? How can it be strengthened? Same with work environments or school, or religious organizations, or any organization, of city, state and country.