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How to Help A Loved One With Loss

The Difference Between Cognitive Empathy and Empathy

written by Dr. Erin Leonard April 29, 2019
How to Help A Loved One With Loss

My son lost his cat last week. The tiny bit of relief I felt at the cat’s passing caused enormous gut-wrenching guilt. Meow Meow wreaked havoc on my household, yet his capacity for affection was extraordinary. The loss was profound for my 10-year-old son, Meow Meow’s best friend.

Showing Empathy

As a child therapist, I knew the “empathic” words to say:

“You are so sad. I know. It hurts, buddy, I get it.”

“You loved him so much and you miss him. It is so hard. It hurts. I understand.”

Yet, my empathy had a minimal impact on Kenny. He was teary, withdrawn, and angry for days. On the third day, he asked, “Why haven’t you cried for Meow Meow, mom?” I rationalized and said, “I’m trying to be strong for you.”  Later that week, it dawned on me that was not true. I wasn’t allowing much deep emotion in because I was desperately defending against the profound guilt I felt.

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