Through various conversations over the past 15 months or so, I have come to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. So, how are they different?
Empathy fuels connection whereas sympathy drives disconnection. There are 4 qualities of empathy:
- Perspective taking: really putting oneself in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world from where they are standing.
- Staying out of judgement: really difficult given how much some of us enjoy the ‘judging’ without even knowing it.
- Recognising emotion in other people and then communicating it.
- Feeling with people: Empathy is a sacred space. Like someone is in a deep dark hole, saying, ”I am stuck and overwhelmed.” It’s about me jumping into that dark hole, standing beside them and saying, “Hey, you are not alone. I am right here with you. I know what it’s like.”
Sympathy is, saying from afar – Ooooh! It’s bad! Is it? Can I get you an ice cream?
Empathy is a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something within myself that knows that feeling. Rarely does an empathic response begin with ‘At least….’.
“I lost my son.”
“At least you got to experience motherhood.”
Putting a silver lining on it when something painful is shared is most unhelpful and un-empathic.
We often try to make things better. But rarely can a response make something better. When someone says, “I just feel so bad, I don’t know what to say”, it seems like they get it.
What makes something better is connection.
( Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw )