Empathy vs Sympathy
Though used interchangeable, there is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy can simply be understood as understanding the feelings of another. This is where we would adopt the perspective of the other person and try to understand the situation. Sympathy, on the other hand, is feeling sorry for another. In this case, we are not adopting the perspective of the other. We are simply looking at the issue from our perspective and sympathizing with the individual. Both terms reflect the feelings towards another person. Empathy and sympathy can be interpreted as an attempt to understand what a person is going through and responding to it through two different approaches.
What is Empathy?
Empathy comes from the Greek term, ‘empatheia’. This means passion, partiality or physical affection. It was later translated into English by Edward B. Titchener, who referred to it as ‘empathy’. Empathy is considered as the ability to understand and, to some degree, show thoughts and feelings (like happiness or sadness) for others. For a person to feel compassion, one has to feel a great amount of empathy. The empathizer doesn’t just show sorrow or joy for that person but also share the same emotions.
In psychology, empathy is understood as getting into another person’s shoes. This denotes that in order to understand another individual, it is necessary to see the world from that person’s perspective. For example, students who wish to become counselor’s practice empathy. This is because it is important to understand the client completely to assist him. This understanding can only be gained if the counselor can empathize with the other person. In humanistic psychology, this is considered as one of the core qualities that the counselor needs to improve.
What is Sympathy?
Sympathy comes from the Greek term, ‘sympatheia’ that denotes suffering and passion. This is a social affinity where an individual stands with another. The one, who sympathizes, feels bad or happy about the person. However, the individual fails to relate to what the person is feeling. This can be considered as one of the main differences between empathy and sympathy. When you empathize, you tend to understand what the person is going through. This gives you the ability to relate to that person is some level or the other. However, when you sympathize, you do not understand the person from his point of view. You look at the issue from your point of view. As the sympathizer, you may not understand the person’s situation but wishes the person to improve or be okay.
For an example, you notice a person on the streets who looks withered and worn out. This person comes to you and asks for some money to buy something to eat. You give him the money because you sympathize, or else you feel sorry for the condition of the person, though you do not empathize. Empathy and sympathy may be a bit different from others, but these two words express strong feelings of affection in a different kind of level. They are often misunderstood terms, but they always think about the good of the individual. You may or may not feel the same way as the person feeling anguish or happiness, but empathy and sympathy strive to make the other person feel better or even better.
What is the Difference between Empathy and Sympathy?
- Empathy responds to the individual’s supposed emotional state by experiencing the individual’s emotions. As for sympathy, you are simply agreeing with their feelings and gives support to the person without even feeling the person’s grief or happiness.
- With empathy, you are placing yourself in the individual’s shoe while sympathy only feels the same way as you but doesn’t involve any attached feelings.
- An empathetic individual will tell you, “I know how you feel it is hard,” while a sympathetic individual will say, “I agree with you. I’m sorry about what happened.”
1.Geneticcounseling by United States National Institutes for Health, Center for Hearing and Communication Disorders [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2.”Helping the homeless” by Ed Yourdon from New York City, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons –