Empathy: Sympathy-vs-Empathy

Sympathy is feeling “for” someone, ie. “I feel so bad for you.” “That thing that happened to you is awful.” A sympathetic response to someone’s circumstances may include an “at least ______” statement within the listener’s attempt to put a silver lining on the bad situation, hoping that it will make the other person “feel better”.

Empathy requires feeling “with” someone. It is a vulnerable choice because it requires you to remember a time when you were in a similarly painful, frightening, frustrating or joyful circumstance. Being empathetic means you are willing to feel the pain with the other person to the extent that you can, and willing to sit with them in their experience without trying to fix it, change it, sugar coat or minimize it. It requires that you honor their experience, that you not judge their reactions to or feelings about the circumstance. It requires that you accept their perspective as their truth, that you recognize their feelings and emotions, and that you consciously communicate your understanding back to them.

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