Empathy vs. Sympathy Comparison

What’s The Difference Between Empathy & Sympathy Really?

While empathy is the understanding and feeling of somebody’s position, sympathy has a few common definitions or general uses which differentiate it from empathy. One definition for sympathy is “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” The other definition is “understanding between people; common feeling.” Seeing this may not shock you, but it requires investigation for school officials that are looking for ways to connect to young people today. First let’s assess the key differences between empathy & sympathy.

Empathy Is From One To Another

Empathy is when you’re understanding another person’s perspective & experience, or you’re actually feeling some part of it. If somebody is physically hurt, with a cut knee, for example. Empathy would be understanding “this person’s knee is cut.” As a result of that you may choose to act, for example, getting them a band-aid. If somebody tells me that they are sad about ending a romantic relationship, I may be able to empathically recall a similar situation I was in, and “feel” some of that emotional distress.

Sympathy Has Conflicting Uses

On the one hand, a sympathetic “common feeling” among 2 people can be a very good thing. It is a positive experience for most people to have the same feelings as another person because it binds us together. However, having “feelings of pity and sorrow” for another person can have adverse effects. First of all, just because somebody else is having “misfortune,” does not mean that they are sorrowful for themselves. They also may not have self-pity.

Empathy Can Lead To Sympathy

If you are empathic towards somebody’s misfortune, that means you have an understanding of it – intellectually. Moving from intellectually understanding to emotionally experiencing pity, sorrow, or a common shared feeling requires a deft & skilled individual. This is why guidance counselors in schools, psychologists, and other mental health professionals are so important. They provide people with empathy, sympathy, and a remedy. They are also able to separate themselves from an individual without adopting a shared upsetting experience.

Supporting People Who Need Both

Young people today have challenges they have to face which many of the older generations did not. With technology like social media and cell phones, it is easier than ever to have a negative body image, and harder to stop bullying. Young people are feeling much more lonely, anxious, and depressed – at an alarming rate. These are factors that contribute to the conditions present in potential and actual school shooters. It is important that students have empathetic listeners, and professional sympathetic support if necessary.  There is no simple solution. But practicing listening carefully, and being interested in those who get left behind socially can be a start.