what is the difference between sympathy and empathy
Start writing a post
Relationships

Empathy vs. Sympathy: A desire for closeness

Without stepping into our vulnerable selves, any attempt at empathy will come out as pure sympathy, and will most likely ruin your relationship.

15
Empathy vs. Sympathy: A desire for closeness

It's very easy to be sympathetic when someone is going through something that's hard to deal with. Take loss, for example. It's easy to tell someone that the person they lost could have been in more pain, or that at least they didn't die alone. Finding these scapegoats and thus making your "comforting" much less personal protects you from feeling vulnerable. The key to truly comforting someone and making it known that their feelings are valid is opening yourself up to our old friend Vulnerability. The key is empathy.

Casandra Brené Brown, Ph.D. and LMSW, is a research professor at the University of Houston and is most famous for her viral and beautifully articulated TED Talks. One of these videos is about how "empathy fuels connection [and] sympathy drives disconnection." If you want to truly be there for someone when they need you, you have to be willing to put yourself in the same emotional space as them or what you think is being nice will come across more as fake or shallow. Empathy is so difficult to master because, in order to be empathetic, you have to tap into the closest trauma you've endured to what the other person is going through. Going back to the example of someone experiencing loss, you have to put yourself emotionally back in the place of when you experienced loss or went through the "stages" of grief in order to be empathetic with them.

While sympathy is, "I'm feeling bad for you," empathy is, "I'm feeling with you."

This can be taxing, and too much of it can prove toxic and unhealthy. However, sometimes feeling these things again can remind us of the progress we've made. Brown gives four main steps to properly showing empathy, which include the following.

1. Putting yourself in the other person's shoes.

2. Listening without judgment, even though we seem to enjoy judging others.

3. Relating to what the person is feeling because you've felt it before.

4. Letting the person know that they are not alone.

My dad and I have talked about this many times before. There has often been a disconnect between us where the "fix-it" mentality overtakes him and he tries to protect me from being upset instead of listening and validating what I feel. He's the person who showed me this video, though. It takes true courage to change how you've reacted to pain for 50+ years, and that's the same courage he displays on a daily basis.

My dad uses the example of a well to make sense of sympathy versus empathy. Say someone you love is stuck in an empty, deep well. Sympathy is seeing that they're down there and either throwing them a rope or saying, "Well, at least the well isn't full of water." Phrases such as, "everything happens for a reason," and beginning with, "at least," are the true thieves of closeness. In this example of the well, empathy would be using the rope to climb down into the well with them to not leave them alone. Empathy is to be vulnerable together, while sympathy leaves one person protected and the other feeling more hurt than before with feelings like the sympathetic person can't really be trusted in the future.

"Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection," Brown said. Without this connection, this desire for closeness, there is no reason for someone to voluntarily dig into their pain. As Brown said, "Empathy is a choice." We have to choose to be vulnerable, one of the hardest choices there is.

When I write, I feel like I make the conscious choice to leave my heart in my words and bare my soul to anyone who comes across it. It is from this place of healing in which I can personally see the world more clearly... to see that with a little more empathy, we can make this world a much better place.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Featured

It Is July Already?

When you realize we're half way through summer and you did nothing fun

384

Well, the Fourth of July has passed and now you suddenly realize that summer is practically over, and you didn’t do half of the epic fun things you thought you were going to do. For many of us, summer vacation is anything but a “vacation”. Between the hustle of internships and seasonal jobs, we’ve forgotten to have a little fun too. But it’s not too late! With only a few more weeks left of summer vacation, here are five more ways you can take advantage of the rest of what summer has to offer.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Every "Scrubs" Fan NEEDS To Know These Dr. Cox Quotes

Dr. Cox may be the most sarcastic, snarky, and nasty person to ever cross television screens.

923
Every "Scrubs" Fan NEEDS To Know These Dr. Cox Quotes

Dr. Cox may be the most sarcastic, snarky, and nasty person to ever cross television screens. His long-winded commentary and ability to destroy just about anyone made him terrifying and hilarious. Once you broke through his tough persona, Dr. Cox was genuine, caring and dedicated. He wanted the best for his patients and his interns. Here are some of funniest, most sarcastic and downright mean lines that Dr. Cox has said during his stint on Scrubs.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Patriotism doesn't end with Independence day

If you can be proud of your country on he 4th of July, you can be proud all year long.

6369
Patriotism doesn't end with Independence day
Photo by Rob Martinez on Unsplash

I'm the child of a Marine Veteran. He may have been out of the service by the time I was born, but the Patriotic Pride he lived by has been my family's life line. I grew up with the American Flag hanging in my front porch. My dad has the "Proud to be a Marine" license plate in the front of his car. And red, white, and blue is a completely acceptable way to decorate your living room. But it doesn't end with just that. You need to know why we celebrate freedom.

Keep Reading... Show less

According to Katy Perry, "Baby You're a Firework." I don't know if she was referring to the Fourth of July when she was referencing fireworks, but this song has allowed this generation to rejoice. The song "Firework" allows people of all ages to appreciate the lyrics, as the song brings forth a positive state of mind. Unfortunately, just like the song, not every knows what the Fourth of July is actually for. Many just assume it is that one time of year you get to spend time barbecuing and see fireworks light up the sky. Even though many are not aware of the American historical significance, this holiday has annually encouraged people to come together happily, which could very much be the importance of it.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Why Fourth Of July is America’s Biggest Frat Party

It’s the celebration of our great nation, and you’re all invited.

4375

It’s the celebration of our great nation, and you’re all invited.

Keep Reading... Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments