Empathy vs Compassion
It is for sure that empathy and compassion are two words that are believed to give the same meaning, but between which some differences can be observed. First let us define the two words. Compassion refers to sympathetic feeling towards another without attempting to know their feelings or even understanding the intensity of their sufferings. On the other hand, Empathy refers to trying to imagine another’s problem coupled with strong feeling for that person, understand his problem and share the feeling. The main difference between compassion and empathy is in how we approach another. In compassion, we look at the person from our point of view, but in empathy we try to look from the other person’s point of view. Through this article, let us comprehend this difference in detail.
What is Compassion?
Compassion is a type of feeling where you tend to feel for the person concerned. You strongly feel sorry for the state of a person without attempting to know what is there in his or her mind. Without even understanding the intensity of his or her problem or predicament you simply feel sorry for a person.
Compassion does not involve sharing of feeling with someone. You do not step into the shoes of the sufferer when you show compassion to him or her. Without understanding his or her feeling, you would simply feel sorry for him or her. This, of course, is the only and the main difference between empathy and compassion. This makes it easy for one to have compassion towards another than empathy. Now let us move on to the next word, empathy.
What is Empathy?
Empathy can be considered as a higher level of emotive behavior. It involves some imagination of the person’s predicament or problem coupled with strong feeling for him or her. The imagination of similar situations is the hallmark of empathy. Such an imagination lays the foundation for gaining empathy for someone.
You tend to share the feeling with someone in the case of empathy. Thus, it is very important to know that in the case of empathy, you would step into the shoes of the sufferer as far as experiencing the impact of the suffering is concerned. You become one with him after understanding his or her feelings. Empathy is a complex kind of feeling. It needs basic understanding of the emotional standards of human beings.
What is the Difference Between Empathy and Compassion ?
Definitions of Empathy and Compassion :
Empathy: Empathy refers to trying to imagine another’s problem coupled with strong feeling for that person, understand his problem and share the feeling.
Compassion: Compassion refers to sympathetic feeling towards another without attempting to know their feelings or even understanding the intensity of their sufferings
Characteristics of Empathy and Compassion:
Point of view:
Empathy: We approach from the point of view of the sufferer. (Getting into the other person’s shoes)
Compassion: We approach from our point of view.
Empathy: The individual needs an in-depth understanding to empathize.
Compassion: The individual only needs a basic understanding to be compassionate.
Empathy: The individual attempt to share the feeling.
Compassion: The individual does not attempt to share the feeling.
1. Acharya Shri Chandanaji – Compassion by Anupriya19 at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
2. “Hicolor apps scalable empathy” by GNOME icon artists – HTTP / FTP. [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Edwin Rutsch says
Here’s a further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion. The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews, videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.
More definitions of empathy and compassion are here;
Julien Bachman says
Actually you got it backwards. Empathy is innate. Compassion is not. Compassion leads to action Empathy does not. You need to do further research on your statements. Empathy is lower state of emotion. Please, educate yourself before you start teaching others.
Shannon Skinner says
you are quite correct in your statement. I’m only replying as I had only thought I was the one that had that state of mind. It is a pity that these ‘blogs’ are posted when not a total understanding of what they are writing is apparent.
When you write “this makes it easy for one to have compassion towards another than empathy” perhaps I don’t know what you mean by “easy” but this seems backward. It is easier to have sympathy for someone who you can identify with (i.e. you can step into their shoes) while having compassion for an individual even though you don’t know their situation is less easy. I think seeing a homeless person is a good example: many people withhold sympathy because they can’t empathize with someone who is an alcoholic or drug addict or whose background is just generally one of making bad choices; the harder thing to do is not concern yourself with the back story and whether you can empathize and simply have sympathy in the form of compassion just because they are homeless.
Michael White says
You’re absolutely right! Being concerned with the backstory is the big one. The next step, is not looking for fault, blame, or centering thoughts on hindsight, just understanding that- choices were made and that life didn’t give them the tools to make better choices and decisions.
Shannon Skinner says
You know you really need to examine the definition of compassion. Earth-Bound-Misfit is absolutely correct. This is why it is used instead of empathy by the dalai lama. You make it sound like compassion is something unworthy and empathy is something divine. EarthBound is correct in saying that empathy is innate it only leads to an understanding and yet it is a deep emotion but it doesn’t lead anywhere. Compassion on the other hand puts a person equal to someone’s suffering no matter what it is ( and not trying to pry), and relates to ending emotion because the cause of the emotion has already happened so what is left? The healing process, that’s what compassion is about.
Dr Jeevanshu Dhawan says
In very simple words.
Sympathy – “I can understand how you feel.”
Empathy – “I can feel how you feel.”
Compassion – “I can fell how you feel and I want to help you out.”