Empathy vs. Sympathy

Empathy and Sympathy – two words that many believe to be the same, but these words have very different emotional responses to a situation. To show empathy means you can see and feel things from another person’s perspective while connecting on the same level. Sympathy, rather, is a less engaged response one might give when presented with someone else’s hardship. A sympathetic response would show concern and hope for the best, but wouldn’t go much deeper than that. “Empathy is about connection; sympathy is about separation” – Brené Brown.

Brené Brown’s perspective on Empathy follows 4 qualities, which she discusses in her animated video. The 4 qualities are Perspective Taking, Staying out of Judgement, Recognizing Emotion in Other People and Communicating One’s Understanding, which together define an empathic response as “feeling with people.” These ideas are effectively illustrated in the video when Dr. Brown describes someone falling into a deep hole and getting stuck, while calling for help. The empathic response in this situation would be for an individual to climb down into the hole with the other person, rather than the sympathetic action which would be to stay on the surface and look for a silver lining. Dr. Brown’s video further describes this comparison of empathy and sympathy by clearly identifying the latter as a lack of emotional connection.

The power of connection can often be found in your inner circle; though sometimes even the connection you have with those closest to you may not be the exact parallel you’re looking for. At The Therapy Centre our team of experienced, empathic, and devoted Clinicians support clients in the community with a wide array of mental health concerns. If you are in need of support, please give our office a call at (289) – 291-0205. We extend services to clients in Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, Milton, Mississauga and surrounding areas.

References: TheRSA. (December 10th, 2013). Brené Brown on Empathy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw