Sympathy vs Empathy
Sympathy vs Empathy
Average reading time: 8 minutes
I have often said that the distressed addict, or even a loved one going through a really difficult time, does not need your sympathy. Your empathy, on the other hand, might be helpful.
I have never fully understood the difference between empathy and sympathy and that is the inspiration behind today’s post.
Empathy VS Sympathy
This blog is dedicated to the addict that has suffered or still suffers. It also reaches out to anyone that is aiming to reach a state of emotional wellbeing.
Very often though, the question is asked, how do I help someone close to me that I can clearly see suffering?
We can often clearly see that this person is not doing well and could really do with our help, but we can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through, let alone help them.
We offer our help, only for our gestures of kindness to fall on deaf ears.
We then start feeling guilty and often let a lot of totally unnecessary things slide, such as their behavior, their attitude or their mannerisms.
We do all of this, because we can clearly see that they are in a lot of pain. We think that by offering a kind and helping hand, this is one sure way of showing that we care and that we want to help them out.
Very often, your kind acts of help may actually be doing the person you’re reaching out to, more harm than good.
You may even have your acts of kindness fall on deaf ears and become resentful when they do not seemingly appreciate you.
Before you continue reading this; if you’re looking for a post that will tell you that you have probably over-extended yourself and that you need to withdraw your helping hand, then this post is not for you.
In order for us to truly help someone close in us, in distress, it’s important for us to honestly assess our actions and the impact that they have on those closest to us.
The basis for sympathy and empathy remains the same and that is of compassion. Provided that the sympathy or compassion is honest and sincere. However there are key differences between the two and that is what I would like to discuss in this post.
Many people think that by sympathizing with someone in distress, they are actually being helpful. While there may be some truth in this, it’s not entirely true.
On a very basic level, sympathy is a feeling pity for someone.
“Oh wow. I’m really sorry that you had to go through that. My heart really goes out for you”
Sympathy is more about recognition. It’s about acknowledging the pain that another may be suffering. It’s about feeling heart-sore or sorry for someone without necessarily having walked in their path.
If sympathy is given in an insincere manner, it can do more harm than good. It may come across as patronizing or that you feel sorry for them. The chances are, the person already thinks very lowly about themselves. That added, “aww, I’m soo sorry for you,” may not be what they need to hear.
Sympathy can be a good thing, but should generally not be used when trying to help someone, but rather to express feelings of concern and care. You do not provide them a sense of support.
By sympathizing with someone, you get to express care, while maintaining that personal divide.
I do not want it to seem like I shun the idea sympathy and it can be very helpful, but I need to illustrate the difference between the two.
Empathy is a deeper feeling. Empathizing with someone is a lot more personal. You don’t feel sorry for the person, as you would when sympathizing, but you understand what they are going through as well. You place yourself in their shoes and feel or know what there’re feeling.
There are many ways to empathize with someone, but the two main ways are:
You could simply relate to the person and let them know that you know and understand what there’re going through, but without offering further assistance. – This is more about understanding.
The second type of empathy is on a much deeper level and that is when you can actually feel what the other person is going through. This is when someone becomes so engrossed in what the other person is going through, that they put themselves in that person’s shoes.
Based on the above examples, empathy is not always a “positive” thing. Understanding what
There is one thing I need to place great emphasis on and that’s honesty when either sympathizing or empathizing.
If you cannot honestly empathize with someone, rather don’t attempt to emphasize at all.
There is nothing more condescending than telling someone that you understand what they are going through and that you can feel their pain when really, you have no idea or understanding at all.
When I empathize with you, I feel your pain. When I sympathize with you, I wish that you felt better.
Let’s use an example to illustrate the above.
A very common example would be the question, how do I help someone that is clearly suffering, but I do not know how to?
Sympathy would be:
“I’m really sorry that you’re going through this. I wish that I could give you a hug and everything would be better. I’m here for you, if you need me”
Empathy would be:
“I have never had a proper understanding of addiction, but after reading up on it, I just want to commend you on how strong you are. One thing I can definitely relate to is feeling incredibly lonely. I’m here for you if you need me.”
Based on the above example, it is quite clear that empathy is a lot more personal, a lot more comforting and helpful.
What’s your take on Sympthy Vs Empathy? I would love to hear your views in the comment box below and don’t forget to subscribe to the weekly newsletter!