Buzzword: Empathy Gap

That’s two words, and there’s also two places we are hearing this phrase: in parenting and politics.

Empathy gap is a phrase coined by a psychologist to describe humans as being “state dependent”.  It’s better known among therapists as a “hot-cold” empathy gap –that is, when people are calm and satisfied (cold), they have trouble appreciating others’ agitated states (hot.)

In politics, it’s also described as someone who is out of touch with “the people” or unable to relate to every day issues that voters care about, but I think it’s often misused or simplified too much in this context.

Teach your children to mind the gap

A better place to discuss the hot-cold empathy gap is with parents.  In our calm, cold states, we are not good at predicting what will bother us in the future, and on the other side we make demands of others based on our [not so reliable] hot states.

Therefore, we cannot always assume that our natural reactions can be counted on, since the hot-cold empathy gap is related to our own perspective. We project our own feelings onto other people.  And we can be short-sighted or variable about what we want. Kids notoriously are this way!  Here’s how you can teach your kids about the empathy gap:

  • Teach them about their feelings: how to understand them, and how to cope with them.
  • Encourage them to “cool off” before they make a decision.
  • Show them your successes or failures in the way you decide things based on your emotional state.
  • Don’t sugarcoat. Children need honesty, preparation, and coping skills. If you’re going to the doctor’s office, prepare for what might occur and discuss how you can comfort each other through the situation.