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Relational Empathy2

Two general ways of viewing empathy.

Individualistic Empathy
Premise. We are separate individuals.
  • Also called Transactional Empathy 

Relational Empathy 
Premise. We are in constant ongoing empathic relationship with those around us.
  • Also called Transformational Empathy 

List of Papers Related to Relational Empathy

Relational empathy: Beyond modernist egocentrism to postmodern holistic contextualism.
by O’Hara, M. (1999)
 In A. Bohart & L. Greenberg (Eds.), Empathy reconsidered: New directions in psychotherapy (2nd ed., pp. 295–319). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

"Considering empathy as both construct and human activity, the chapter contributes to the fast-growing discussion of the limits of the indigenous psychology of the Western world in addressing the relational needs of its members. In particular it examines the limits of Modernist individualism as a paradigm for understanding human experience, and on ways Western psychological descriptions and understandings of empathy in particular — whether Rogerian, psychoanalytic, existential or more generic — have obscured some of the important ways empathy functions in human relationships." (O'HARA 1997)

"Relational empathy. When looked at through a sociocentric lense, empathy provides a means of knowing relationships not only egocentrically in terms of its particulars, but also holistically as wholes which are more than the sum of their parts. In their ground-breaking work examining the role of empathy in the psychological development of women, Stone Center theorists have recently shifted descriptions of empathy in a sociocentric direction by referring to it as the "relational skill par excellence."(Jordan, et al., 1991)" (O'HARA 1997)

"At this point it is possible to consider empathy from outside the modernist discourse and look afresh at this ubiquitous human activity from within a relational frame. From this new vantage point empathy ceases to be seen as the highly skilled instrumental activity of one autonomous individual—the therapist— intervening in the life of another—the client, while themselves remaining separate and unaffected. Instead, empathy becomes understandable as an essential feature of human relational connectedness; an expansion of a person's consciousness to include in the perceptual field the other as an individual, and the relationship with the other of which he or she is a part. "(O'HARA 1997)
" Humanist conceptions of the person evolve across history. While humanism has served a pivotal role in the care-giving professions, its individualist emphasis now stands as an impediment to its future. Proposed is a relational re-conceptualization of the person, placing relational as opposed to individual well-being in the forefront of our concerns."
 "Empathy is an aspect of relationship which is lived out by the participants in that relationship. Understanding empathy as an interactional variable calls on those who strive to educate counselors and therapists to emphasize the therapeutic relationship as a joint enterprise and to develop ways to research "the between" which exists in each and every therapeutic encounter. Empathy does not "reside" within the therapist. Empathy is not "contained" within the therapist's communications. Empathy is not "what I hear you saying."

Empathy might best be thought of as a way of being that emerges in a relationship. As the participants in a therapeutic relationship interact, empathy evolves out of their mutual experiences of "who I experience you to be" and "how I experience myself in relationship to you." In this sense, both participants--client and counselor--have a perspective which informs the other. Accessing and exploring this intimate ground will prove fruitful for understanding empathy and for unraveling the complexities of therapeutic process."
Tim Atkinson, Executive Director, 
Imago Relationships International May 2007  

" Moving from an individual to a relational perspective
A paradigm is an over arching perspective which organizes thought and research. Many psychological approaches work in a paradigm in which each person is viewed as an independent and separate entity. They are taught communication tools to tell the other person about their needs, and negotiation tools to help resolve conflicts peacefully. But each partner is still seen in terms of their own projections. 

They haven’t learned yet to see the other person, and are missing out on much of the joy, magic and potential of a deeper relationship. Imago views the couple from the perspective of a relational paradigm, and by engaging them in a dialogue helps them focus on their relationship rather than on each other. In dialogue one person listens to their partner’s perspective, whilst putting their own judgments and concerns on hold for a few moments. They might imagine that they are crossing a bridge into their partner’s world, recognizing that it is very different from their own. In their partner’s world they  find that everything their partner is saying makes sense, even though from their own original perspective it might have seemed that they were crazy. This is very different from one partner delivering a monologue, while the other partner is making judgments based on their own worldview and projections.

Martin Buber and “I-Thou”
In 1923, Martin Buber wrote “I-Thou”, a radical essay on the relational nature of existence. Inspired by Feuerbach and Kirkegaard, Buber made a distinction between two types of interpersonal relationships. The first he called an “I-It” relationship, in which people have relatively superficial connections with one another, and fail to break through their own projections. But Buber also talks of an “I-thou” encounter, where we have an authentic experience of our partner, understanding their “otherness.”

"Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt’s radical step with  couples was to have one partner take the role of the client, sharing their world view, while their partner, rather than the therapist, reflected back their understanding and empathy. The “I-thou” encounter is now between the couple."

"In social neuroscience, empathy is often approached as an individual ability, whereas researchers in anthropology focus on empathy as a dialectic process between agents. In this perspective paper, we argue that to further elucidate the mechanisms underlying the development of empathy, social neuroscience research should draw on insights and methods from anthropology. 
    • First, we discuss neuropsychological studies that investigate empathy in inter-relational contexts. 
    • Second, we highlight differences between the social neuroscience and anthropological conceptualizations of empathy. 
    • Third, we introduce a new study design based on a mixed method approach, and present initial results from one classroom that was part of a larger study and included 28 children (m = 13, f = 15). Participants (aged 9–11) were administered behavioral tasks and a social network questionnaire; in addition an observational study was also conducted over a period of 3 months.
 Initial results showed how children's expressions of their empathic abilities were influenced by situational cues in classroom processes. This effect was further explained by children's positions within classroom networks. Our results emphasize the value of interdisciplinary research in the study of empathy."
"Cultivating successful personal and professional relationships requires the ability to accurately infer the feelings of others—that is, to be empathically accurate. Some are better at this than others, a difference which may be explained in part by mode of thought. Specifically, empathically accurate people may tend to rely more on intuitive rather than systematic thought when perceiving others. 

Or it may be the reverse: systematic thought may increase empathic accuracy. To determine which view is supported by the evidence, we conducted 4 studies examining relations between mode of thought (intuitive vs. systematic) and empathic accuracy. 
    • Study 1 revealed a lay belief that empathic accuracy arises from intuitive modes of thought. 
    • Studies 2 through 4, each using executive-level professionals as participants, demonstrated that, contrary to lay beliefs, people who tend to rely on intuitive thinking also tend to exhibit lower empathic accuracy. This pattern held when participants inferred others’ emotional states based on
    •  (a) in-person face-to-face interactions with partners (Study 2) as well as on 
    • (b) pictures with limited facial cues (Study 3). 
    • Study 4 confirmed that the relationship is causal: experimentally inducing systematic (as opposed to intuitive) thought led to improved empathic accuracy. In sum, evidence regarding personal and social processes in these 4 samples of working professionals converges on the conclusion that, contrary to lay beliefs, empathic accuracy arises more from systematic thought than from gut intuition.""

Seeing Theory in Practice: An Analysis of Empathy in Mediation
by: Conflict Research Consortium Staff
July 1999

"Della Noce asks whether and how ideology affects mediator practice. She describes the individualist ideology that supports problem-solving approaches to mediation, and the relational ideology that informs transformative approaches. She then examines how these different ideologies shape mediators understandings of the nature and role of empathy. Case studies indicate that these different understandings yield differences in mediator practice...

In problem-solving, empathy is seen as an instrument, valuable in so far as it helps the parties satisfy their (personal, pre-existing) interests.
 "Bargainers need only understand enough about the other's interests to get to a satisfactory deal."(p. 283) Empathy is also treated as a commodity for exchange, offered on the condition that the other party does the same. The author argues that "The mediator who privileges Individualist assumptions by adopting interest-based bargaining will filter the parties' communication through a transactional lens, which, in turn, will color what the mediator recognizes as an opportunity for empathy and deems a competent response."(p. 283) Empathy is used to uncover interests, and competent empathic responses are those which clarify interests.

In transformative mediation, empathy is valued in itself.
"With the focus on interaction rather than individual psychology, the communicative process of developing empathy is valuable in its own right, whatever the outcome, because empathy itself expresses the enrichment of interaction and personal awareness that embodies the 'good' in Relational ideology."(p. 285) Della Noce examines different mediators' responses to the same conflict simulation, and finds that "the mediators heard very different things from the parties as they interacted with each other, highlighted different aspects of the interaction as salient to mediation, and responded in different ways."(p. 294) These differences in mediator practice correspond with differences in their preferred mediation approaches, and underlying ideology."

(Jordan, et al., 1991)
 Miller, J.B., Jordan, J., Kaplan, A., Stiver, I., Surrey, J. Some Misconceptions and Reconceptions of a Relational Approach. Work in Progress, No. 49. Stone Center for Developmental Services and Studies, Wellesley, MA, 1991.

"Relational empathy. When looked at through a sociocentric lense, empathy provides a means of knowing relationships not only egocentrically in terms of its particulars, but also holistically as wholes which are more than the sum of their parts. In their ground-breaking work examining the role of empathy in the psychological development of women, Stone Center theorists have recently shifted descriptions of empathy in a sociocentric direction by referring to it as the "relational skill par excellence.
"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 case example illustrates this approach. The author suggests that the relational-cultural model has applications at both the personal and societal levels."

Entangled Empathy, An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with Animals
Lori Gruen

Contrasting an Ethics of Justice and an Ethics of Empathy/Care.

In pages 32 to 34, of Entangled Empathy, Lori Gruen compares and contrasts an ethics of justice (traditional ethical theoriesand an ethics of empathy and care. I find this to be one of the most important parts of the book. 
(direct link ).

"The division between justice and care, to a large extent, paralleled the different sorts of responses to ethical issues that tracked gender socialization, where girls, even in early play experiences, are often steered toward more caring and collaborative roles and boys toward more hierarchal and rule-based roles. Girls often respond to ethical questions by asking  further questions about social relationships, whereas boys often responded by invoking social standards or rules. An ethics of care sometimes was associated with "feminine" characteristics and an ethics of justice "masculine" ones." Entangled Empathy, Page 32.

1. Abstraction vs. Context
"..traditional ethical theories claims are not designed to fit the specifics of each individual situation. The details and particularities of the situation must be abstracted away so that what remains is the rule or principle. The traditional approach claims that when one is able to reason impartially from abstract principles one has achieved the highest level of moral development. 

In contrast, an ethics of care finds the details that make up a situation to be indispensible to an adequate resolution of any moral problem. It makes being reflective about the context a crucial part of moral experiences. It makes being reflective about the context a crucial part of moral experiences."

2. Individualism vs. Relationally
"Traditional theories focus on a conception of rational "man" without even the most basic and necessary relationships among people. The nature of morality springs from the universal capacity of individuals to reason, rather than from the connections individuals have with one another. Care theorists view people as embedded in and emerging from social relationships."

 3. Impartiality vs. Connection
"Impartial reasoning is the highest form of ethical deliberation in traditional approaches. For a decision to be just and unbiased, it must be impartial, and detached from personal and emotional responses to a situation.. An ethics of care rejects this kind of impartiality that requires moral decision-makers to detach themselves from the context in which they are making decisions, including who they are, the nature of their relationships with others in the situation, and their own involvement in that situation...."

4. Conflict vs. Responsiveness
"Most traditional theories focus on situations of conflict and choice. An ethics of care has to address situations of conflict of course, but it is also concerned with how people come to see moral problems in the first place and tires to explore the moral imagination, not only as a way to reframe problems but as a means to move toward solutions."

She goes on to say we need a theory that is not justice vs. empathy but that bridges the two approaches."