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.
Alexis Hoffman

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we all know that cutting out social interaction has taken its toll.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Asked Instagram How 2020 Was, And Maybe It Wasn't The Worst Year Ever

2020 is a year to remember but it's not as bad as we made it out to be.

8513

It's finally 2021 and we're honestly all just happy that 2020 is over. I decided to ask my Instagram followers how they felt about 2020 and the results were a little more mixed up than expected.

Keep Reading... Show less

Ever since I watched "How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days," I've been a major Matthew McConaughey fan. I've seen most of his movies, and I definitely got way too excited when he finally made an Instagram! So when he announced he would be releasing a memoir titled "Greenlights," I knew I absolutely had to get my hands on this book. And so did the rest of the world, as the book began to flood social media.

Truthfully, I would much rather read a fiction book and dive into another world than read a nonfiction book - even if it is one of my favorite celebrities. But I had a feeling this book wouldn't disappoint or bore.

Keep Reading... Show less
Entertainment

The Armie Hammer Scandal Discourse Is Kink Shaming And Harming Actual Victims

The rumors surrounding Armie Hammer has resulted in some very toxic and harmful discourse.

498

Sex is something that occupies a very significant place in our lives. Even asexual people can have an active sex life. With the various types of people that comprise this world, it obviously results in various sexual interests. And unconventional people can engage in some pretty unconventional sex practices. Even the most conventional people on the surface might surprise us with their sexual fantasies.

Keep Reading... Show less
Entertainment

The Top 10 'Sex and the City' Episodes You Need To Revisit Before The New Series

In anticipation for the upcoming series, "And Just Like That," here are the ten "Sex and the City" episodes you need to revisit.

188
HBO

"Sex and the City" has become quite the franchise since its premiere in the late nineties. The series lasted six seasons and even produced two films. Fans of the show were anxiously awaiting a revival, even if their hopes seemed futile. Kim Cattrall, who plays Samantha Jones, recently spoke out saying she would not return to the show. Cattrall explained that she was never friends with her co-stars and even had a difficult relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker.

In the wake of Cattrall's revelation, rumors swirled the series would come back without her. On January 10, a new teaser was posted on social media for the new series, "And Just Like That." Now that a revival is officially confirmed, here are the ten "Sex and the City" episodes you need to revisit.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

My New Tattoo Reminds Me To Love Everyone With Intention—And Yes, That Includes Myself

I've realized that love has almost nothing to do with agreeing and almost everything to do with grace.

5086
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I'm a big believer that everyone has a story.

Keep Reading... Show less
Lum3n

Women are known to lug around heavy purses with unnecessary items inside. How many of these useful items do you keep in your own bag? We need to be prepared with a list of things to have with us whenever we leave the house again.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments