There are three goals of empathy. The first goal of empathy is to leave your partner feeling understood and accepted. The second goal of empathy is to deepen your partner’s self-understanding. The third goal is to help you, the Empathizer, better understand your partner’s feelings, concerns, and desires. When these three goals are accomplished, empathy has four benefits.
The first benefit of good empathy is that it encourages your partner to go deep in exploring and sharing his or her experience. A second benefit is that in feeling understood your partner will be more receptive to hearing your point of view and to resolving issues constructively. A third benefit is that it helps you, the Empathizer, dissipate negative feelings and increases receptivity to hearing your partner’s point of view. A final benefit of empathy is that it fosters a deepened sense of intimacy, compassion, and emotional bonding in your relationship.
Empathy is not about you imagining your self in the other person’s place. It is not about imagining what you would feel, or how you would respond to a situation. Instead, empathy is about experiencing things from the other person’s point of view, not from your own point of view.
One way to understand this is through the concept of selflessness. To be selfless means t be able to be fully present to the experience of another person without your own feelings and concerns getting in the way; without your own preferences and desires getting in the way; and without your own values and goals getting in the way. Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of those things per se, until they become obstacles to our being able to understand another person from that person’s point of view. At worse, this can take the form of you making negative judgments about the person and the person’s experience.