Abstract

EMPATHY: A SPECTRUM OF SHARING

By Wayland Meyers

 Empathy was generally defined in this study as the experience of sharing or living, in one way or another, what another person lives. Research into this broad category of human experience is still at a level where there is no widely accepted definition or theoretical model. This study attempted to unify many of the extant definitions and theories, some of them apparently contradictory, into one multi-dimensional theoretical model, and to investigate and present a description of a mode of empathic experiencing that was apparently heretofore unstudied.

 The model proposed that empathic experience is a fluctuating and multidimensional process which has at least three basic elements that from moment to moment vary in the degree to which they are the dominant aspect of the empathizer's experience. These three elements were called the imaginative aspect (the action of imaginatively placing oneself in another's "shoes" and thereby "seeing the world through his eyes:); the osmotic aspect (experiencing in oneself of a physical/mental emotional state which is similar to the physical/mental/emotional state of another without making any conscious effort to do so); and the cobiotic aspect (described in the following paragraph.). A visual model analogous to the spectrum of light was developed to depict the various possibilities for empathic experience. The three "colors" of the empathy spectrum were the three proposed dimensions of an empathic experience.

    The predominantly cobiotic ("co" meaning together or with, "biotic" meaning life or living) empathic experience was the mode of empathic experience that appeared to be heretofore unstudied. A phenomenological methodology was used. The non-imaginative empathic experiences of three people from a group (of which the researcher was a member) doing “ontological" spiritual training and work were recorded via taped interviews. The primary criterion used in selecting these people was that they appeared to have well developed and delineated predominantly cobiotic experiences. The researcher also recorded his similar experiences in a journal. A thematic analysis of these experiences was performed and a condensed description of the experience generated. The condensed description was then submitted to the respective subject for his/her review. A dialogue was maintained until a mutually acceptable condensed description was developed. A cross subject comparison of experiences was performed resulting in the identification of three common and predominant characteristics of the predominantly cobiotic empathic experience as exemplified by these people. They are:

1)    experiencing oneself to be actively, directly, and inseparably participating in a life or "energy" which in part shows as an active field around, and to some degree through, both people, and that is experienced by the empathizer as transfusing and being related to, but more fundamental than either person's physical/ mental/emotional condition.

2) The experience that because of one's participation in this apparently more fundamental life or "energy" certain aspects of the other's physical/mental/emotional condition are directly experienced in or around oneself.

3) The experience is naturally occurring. It is not "produced" by the empathizer in the sense that he uses his mind or emotions to create the experience. The training and practice apparently necessary for a fuller and clearer conscious experience of this type is not a training in "making" the experience happen, but in acknowledging and following the two people's participation in a life or "energy" that is already active. The implications of this mode of empathic experiencing for psychotherapy and a view of what a human being is were discussed.

The full study as well as Wayland's interview with Martin and correspondence with  Carl Rogers is available by using the sidebar titles.