EMPATHY VS SYMPATHY IN 2023
Have you ever had someone acknowledge and reflect back to you what you’re feeling so perfectly that it made you tear up?
Has someone ever taken the time to sit with you quietly in your grief and just hold your hand?
Have you ever told someone your story, shared your pain, or acknowledged your shame, and they teared up in response to the powerful feelings you were expressing?
If so, this is the essence of empathy.
Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling. It is the capacity to identify so intimately with the emotions of another that it’s like being inside the other person’s skin.
But beyond sharing the feelings of another, it is the willingness to imagine how the other person is impacted by their emotions.
It is the conscious choice to focus on the other person’s state of mind before your own. Empathy is often the first step toward taking compassionate action for someone.
There are two types of empathy which can occur separately or together. The first is affective empathy which refers to the feelings we feel when we observe or sense another person’s emotions. For example, if you see someone crying, you will feel sad or teary yourself.
The second type of empathy is cognitive empathy. This is the ability to identity and understand the emotions of someone else.
You are able to see a situation from their perspective and understand their emotions or reactions.
What is empathy and how does it differ from sympathy?
Both empathy and sympathy are grounded in compassion and the shared commonality of feelings and experiences.
Sympathy is a feeling of care and concern for someone and the sincere desire to see that person feel better or happier. Sympathy goes beyond just pity for someone’s plight to show authentic concern for their well-being.
However, sympathy, unlike empathy, does not involve a shared perspective or shared emotions. Empathy is more focused on personally identifying with or projecting oneself into another’s situation.
- You might feel sympathy for someone who just lost their job, but if you never lost a job, it’s hard to feel empathy.
- You might feel sympathy for someone who recently divorced, but it’s hard to empathize because it feels too uncomfortable to put yourself in their shoes.
- You might feel sympathy for someone who just lost money in the stock market because you did as well, but your sympathy is grounded more in your own feelings of frustration rather than the other person’s.
To be able to empathize, it takes some imagination, effort, and often a similar experience to put yourself in another’s shoes.
Empathy involves some level of willingness to extend yourself into another person’s emotional space and sit with them there, even if it’s uncomfortable. It is a way of saying, “I understand you because I am you, and I am willing to share your pain.For many reasons, empathy is harder to accomplish than sympathy. You not only have to really hear the other person without judgement, but also you must acknowledge to yourself and the other person the similar feelings you share as the listener.
This intimate connection and mutual sharing builds bridges that create trust and understanding.
The connection created by empathy is healing and positive for both people, even if nothing is resolved or the pain remains.
The goal of empathy isn’t to race to a solution or answer, although at a later time it may be appropriate to help the other person uncover a solution. The goal is to ease the other’s aloneness and isolation in their plight.
For some, like highly sensitive people and empaths, feeling empathy is natural and automatic. High sensitivity is a natural trait occurring in 15-20% of the population, in both men and women.
One of the most common characteristics of sensitives is the ability to quickly recognize and experience the feelings of others. Many empaths suggest they can feel the feelings of someone close to them even if they aren’t in the same location.
Those who are not highly sensitive (which is the vast majority of people) may need to hone their empathy skills.
Most people have some natural empathy as it does play a role in our evolutionary history and can be traced to the mirror neurons in our brains. However, you can enhance your natural empathic abilities with some practice.