Medical Practice

Sympathy Vs Empathy

Author: Dr. Rohini

Emotional intelligence is an important to maintain a healthy personal and professional life. Two important components of emotional intelligence are empathy and sympathy. Though  people often use “empathy” and “sympathy” interchangeably, but they’re both different. Empathy and sympathy are both good traits to have as they help offer support for people who need it.

What is Sympathy?

Feeling sympathy for someone is positive because you are acknowledging someone’s feelings or their situation. situation that they’re going through. Sympathy is usually communicated in adverse scenarios to express sorrow and pity. For example, when someone has passed away.

Being sympathetic is about saying, “I hear you, I understand and value what you’re feeling.” It is mainly about observation and an acceptance of what someone is going through. Sympathy can also amount to “feeling sorry” for someone. Sympathy is “feeling with,” instead of deeply feeling for them, hence, there’s a natural detachment from the situation.

What is Empathy?

Being an empathetic and feeling empathy is a broader, more intense emotional reaction to a situation someone is in. Being empathetic involves taking on the feelings of the other person or people that are going through a difficult situation. This main difference between empathy and sympathy is, empathy is feeling for them, while sympathy is feeling with someone or feeling sorry. While being empathic, you experience a fraction of their emotions and feelings after seeing things from their perspective. Empathy is actively listening, asking questions and coming up with solutions. Empathy is putting oneself in the other person’s situation, sharing the emotional burden with the affected person, coming up with solutions and helping them.

Sympathy Vs Empathy

Whether a person feels empathetic empathetic or sympathetic in a situation, depends on the individual, their personality, their background and their own personal experiences.  Having gone through or struggled with a similar situation, the chances of being empathetic towards people going through the same experiences is higher.

Sympathy is often an expression of  feeling bad or sorry for the other person.  Empathy is deeper and more intense than sympathy. It is about acknowledging a person’s feelings, genuinely imagining and trying to feel what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes. Empathy is putting oneself in the other person’s situation, sharing the emotional burden with the affected person, coming up with solutions and helping them. For example, sympathy may be telling someone that lost a loved one that you feel sorry for them. Empathy would be deeper, listening to the person, sharing their sorrow, spending time with them to help them cope and feel better. Empathy is doing something about it, instead of just feeling pity.  

Hence, empathy may often be considered to be better than sympathy. Many people often prefer when others are empathetic toward them, rather than just feeling sorry for them but both traits are important to have. They are both acceptable responses based on the situation. Empathy is is more difficult to practice. It comes more naturally to some people, but it is often a choice to be empathetic. 

What If a Someone Lacks Empathy And Sympathy?

It is possible that some people lack empathy and sympathy. Lack of empathy and sympathy can lead to problems in one’s personal and professional life. It can be difficult to maintain relationships.Those who lack empathy and sympathy may have a higher chance of being emotionally or physically abusive or committing crime. 

However, research has shown that empathy and sympathy are traits that can be developed. There are steps people can take to acknowledge their biases, their shortcomings and see things from others perspective. Some of these steps involve actively listening, talking to people and being curious. Talking to people from different walks of life, different cultures, upbringing, etc. can help develop empathy and sympathy. One may also seek help from family, friends, counsellors or psychologists to help understand and see things more clearly. Some people may become more empathetic and sympathetic after going through certain experiences in their own life.

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