(2023 Note: Please look at this article's comment section for an excellent critique).
Empathy, if we think about it, is a very strange mental resource. That's because, on the one hand, it is something many of us crave when we face a difficult situation. On the other hand, it does absolutely nothing, in order to solve, that difficult situation. By itself at least, by emotional support. This raises the question, What need is there, for empathy as a problem solver?
If you enter deep debt and someone hugs you after hearing this, it contributes absolutely nothing to solving said debt. Why, then, seek empathy, beyond the need for some self-gratification? Beyond emotional validation, that might not solve the actual problem? For the sake of this article, empathy is the ability to understand others on an emotional level. It's something that allows people to emotionally support you.
When being comforted in empathy, there is always this sentence, "You're not alone". It means you have others to support you during a difficult period. However, even if they support you, as much as they can, it doesn't necessarily have any impact on the problem itself that you're facing. So, what is the point of their support and company?
Because, whether or not you'll remain alone with your problems doesn't really matter, does it? One or more problems will remain no matter how many hugs you receive from those who are dear to you. They may remain no matter how "likes" and "upvotes" you'll get on social media, and so on.
And still, people seek empathy as a form of gratification while facing their problems. Why? Probably because it helps against the disturbing sensation of unease, caused by these problems. But what does it matter, what do you feel and what not you feel, when the problem itself is at stake? Why pay attention to whether or not you're lonely, when you can try and solve the problem at hand? Surely, the attempt to solve the problem, is more important, correct?
Empathy, therefore, as long as it does not offer any practical advice, is quite a useless thing to seek. Even though people seek it quite much when they are in a crisis, a dilemma, a dispute and so on. For some reason, it is important for people to not feel lonely when facing their problems, even though their loneliness has, practically, no actual position in the struggle against the problem that makes them "feel" lonely. Others can practically help, yes, but I'm not necessarily writing about them. Cooperations can help solve problems. Cooperations with those who cannot solve them, isn't. Of course, there are problems that cannot be solved. The point is to focus on the practical part in order to reduce the duration of a problem.
Empathy is like butter. You don't always need it, but you may use it nonetheless, when hungry. Even though it doesn't always have any contribution to the metaphorical problem that is your hunger. Sometimes it could help, when putting something on a pan and making sure it won't stick to it. But, other than that, there is really no reason to put it on any other food, no matter how tasty it is (and that is coming from someone who really, really likes butter in their sandwich).
Perhaps people use empathy as a distraction from the things that make their lives difficult for the time being. It makes them think of other things, like how not lonely they are, when being comforted by other people. But again, what point is there in distractions and comforts, when one could think of something worthier of their time. Something like trying to solve the problem that confronts them!
Empathy, of course, is necessary to understand how others feel, and how to respond to certain people at the time when they feel those feelings. It seems like some people are more aggressive when they are emotionally vulnerable, as a way to "defend" themselves. Perhaps most important of all, empathy makes people feel like there is someone for them, that they are not "alone" in this world. The validation that they're are loved, they are appreciated, and so on.
For some reason, we humans have a changing desire to know that we are appreciated and/or loved when we are faced with a difficult situation. For some, if not most, telling them exactly that is sufficient for them when such problems occur, even though it holds no relevance to the problem at hand.
Obviously, not all problems can be solved. You can't bring people back from the dead, you can't make someone who doesn't like you anymore, like you (usually). You can't always financially support someone who is in deep debt. So what are we left with? We are left with the saying "you are not alone", regardless of whether or not the comforting person actually had or is having the exact same problem/s.
Based on what is written here, the best contribution of empathy when facing a problem is this: Distract them from their problems, as they are being directed to focus on the positive things that they do have (alongside their problems). Remind someone something positive about their existence, and they might cope with their problems better. Even if said problems do not require one to be encouraged, in order for them to be solved...
And still, I find it weird that distractions can help one get through difficult situations, especially if these situations can be solved without distractions. All that is required to solve a difficult problem are two things: rational thinking and/or resources. Once you have these, you don't have to be reminded that you are not alone. You don't need to be reminded that you are appreciated by others. Those hold no relevancy at times when you have the power to overcome your issues throughout life. Reduce your sensitivity, and the need for emotional support might decrease as well. I'm speaking from experience. I have no need to be so sensitive. It's in my way for greater success.
This is why, when I had rough nights, and had no one to turn to, I was left with one thing, and one thing only. My inner desire is to be victorious, to overcome, independently. I believe that in English it is called "Tenacity". If you have that in your heart, you'll have less and less of a need to be reminded of your lack of isolation, when dealing with difficult times.
Have you ever wondered why there are songs for specific purposes? Songs like when marching in the military, sailing on a ship, singing the national anthem, etc.? To keep you determined enough to persevere. How I see it, tenacity is far more effective a resource than empathy because the former not only makes you determined to see things through, but also can do so independently of an external entity's emotional state towards your current condition.