Empathy and Listening Skills
Psychological Hugs

The use of empathy and listening skills--empathic listening--sometimes leads to good relationships, emotional intimacy, and happy marriages. Their use may also lead to a conversation partner feeling like she or he is receiving a hug--a "psychological hug."

To help you decide if you want to continue reading, you may want to know my qualifications for writing the information on this site. I, Lawrence J. Bookbinder, Ph.D., am a former psychologist who retired after over 30 years of practicing clinical psychology. For more information about my qualifications, go to the last page of this site.


Comparison of Empathy with Sympathy  oooooooo

Because of my observations that many people do not know the differences between empathy and sympathy, I will present my understanding of the subject before continuing my discussion of empathy and listening skills. My presentation will be clarified by the use of an example.

A man is talking about his father's death, which had occurred a week earlier. As he talks about missing his father and his powerful love for him, the man's voice gradually becomes filled with anguish and then he bursts into tears in front of a friend who is listening to him.

If the friend uses sympathy, she might think, for example: He is remembering his father with pain. Poor Roger. If the friend decides to verbalize her thoughts, she might say to the grieving man words such as: "I feel your pain."

If the friend uses empathy, she might think, for example: He is remembering his father with pain and also the pleasure of his love for him. If the friend decides to verbalize her thoughts, she might say to the grieving man words such as: "I feel your pain and also your great love for your father."

This sharing of the painful feelings of another person is characteristic of both sympathy and empathy. However, the person using sympathy would pay more attention to the pain than to the love for the father whereas the person using empathy would pay equal attention to the pain and love.

If the friend added "I'm sorry for your loss," this statement would also be characteristic of sympathy, but not of empathy. The person using empathy would share the grieving man's emotional pain, but not necessarily feel sorry for or pity him. Of course, one can use both sympathy and empathy, for example: "I feel your pain and also your great love for your father. I'm sorry for your loss."

For more information about the differences and similarities between empathy and sympathy, read my more detailed comparison, which includes another example.


My Belief about Empathy and Listening Skills   oooooooo

I believe that one of humankind's tragedies is the loss of countless opportunities for good relationships, emotional intimacy, and happy marriages because we rarely use our empathic listening with each other.

Other Pages of this Website   oooooooo

An illustration of how using empathy and listening skills could lead to a good relationship describes one of my conversations, Introduction.

A description of a second conversation, Method, shows how using empathy and listening skills might lead to emotional intimacy.

A discussion of the second conversation explains why the use of empathic listening sometimes stimulates one's conversation partner to feel hugged--Psychological Hugs.

Risks lists some problems which can emerge from the use of empathic listening.

Author presents my qualifications for writing this website.

Expanded Version of this Website   oooooooo

At this point, you may want to switch to the expanded version of this website, which is 19 pages long.

Or you may want to continue with this website, which is 6 pages long. To follow its unfolding, read the Introduction page next.


If you liked this site, e-mailing me your thanks will reward me for creating it and help sustain my motivation to keep it going for future visitors.

My Other Websites on Empathy and Listening Skills

Empathy, Listening Skills, and Intimacy is an expanded version of the above website.

Listening Skills and Relationships is a discussion board which includes messages from me and my responses to messages from others. To read or post messages, you do not have to register. Visit the board to read questions and answers, ask or answer questions, share experiences, etc.

Sympathy versus Empathy explains the differences and similarities between sympathy and empathy.

Empathy contains a description of a conversation with a United States Copyright Office representative during which I used empathy.

Empathy and Listening Skills illustrates the difference between understanding the information the other person is saying to you versus understanding the meaning to her of saying the information.

Listening Skills contains a description of listening to my wife talk about her grocery shopping trips.

Communication Skills illustrates my use of nonverbal "listening skills" during a conversation to assess whether the other person is receiving my message.

Listening Skills Professionals Listen Empathically -1 explains why I advocate that society establish the profession of empathic listener as a profession separate and independent from that of psychotherapist.

Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 by Lawrence J. Bookbinder, Ph.D. and last revised on September 11, 2006. I also have websites on prostate cancer and on the noncancerous enlarged prostate (BPH).