To many people, it is uncommon to show empathy when you have not first felt sympathetic to a person or situation. Even then, there is a thin line between the two concepts. That thin line brings confusion when trying to tell the difference. Yet, upon scrutiny, you realize that empathy depends on sympathy.
To understand this, you need first to be able to tell the difference between empathy and sympathy. The difference is in the meaning, expressions, and qualities of the two emotions. We also look at the question of which one between the two is right to choose, and whether that should indeed be the case.
Difference between Empathy and Sympathy
Sympathy means going along with the viewpoint or feelings of the other person. You experience emotions from the outside without having to go through their experience. You may not have experienced what they are going through. You share in the feelings because you can see what they are going through. Empathy, on its part, is about understanding the situation of another person. You do so because you have gone through a similar experience.
When you feel empathy, you may not have to agree with what the other person is going through. Even then, you do not approach them with a pre-formed mindset against their situation. You do not judge a drug addict, but you listen to them to find a possible solution. When you feel sympathy, you would be sorry for them. Yet, you may end up judging them and blaming them for the addiction.
The feeling of sympathy involves emotional pain and sadness when you see the other person’s trouble. Empathy involves itself in getting a picture in your mind about how the other person is feeling. You “put yourself in their shoes” and try to live their experience. The experience of an actor playing a character, and so living the life of the character. Still, it has no direct role-play in character, other than being sorry for the “character.”
Empathy is more in-depth than superficial sympathy, which shares the feeling with the victim. Understanding is more profound – it seeks to answer the questions “why” and “how” something is happening to a person. This feeling makes you engage in looking for solutions to what is causing the other person to suffer. You experience sympathy in your heart, which only feels. Empathy is in mind, which provides solutions for the victim.
Sympathy comes without a choice, but empathy is a choice like when you understand and refuse to judge a drug addict since you have been to rehab. You are choosing to identify with their experience. This choice makes you ready to do something within your power to ease the burden on them. You are showing empathy, even though it started with sympathy.
Distinction between Acts of Sympathy and Empathy
- You express sympathy when you send condolences to a friend who has lost a loved one through death. You express empathy by supporting them in every way possible. You have had that feeling before, and you do not want them to go through it alone.
- It is also an act of sympathy when you feel sorry for victims of a natural disaster, like floods, or a landslide. Empathy is going out of your way to support them in coping with the aftermath. For instance, when you give them shelter, food, and clothing on humanitarian grounds.
Difference in Qualities Empathy and Sympathy
- Viewing the world in the eyes of the other person
- Understanding exactly how they feel
- Not judging them
- It is the ability to express how you understand their feelings.
- Showing concern by allowing the other person to express their feelings
- Expressing attention to the other person through body expressions
- Using words that express pity for their pain
What to Choose Between Empathy and Sympathy
In conclusion, we can see a situation where it is not right to have empathy without sympathy. You express empathy and sympathy when you can feel for others. Yet, you go beyond self to get their experience into your head. As such, you forge possible solutions to their predicament. For you to impact on the other person, you need to have compassion for them, and “live their experience.”
Sharing other people’s burdens helps you to lift them from the unwanted situation. At the very least, it makes it easier for them to cope with their problems. In this regard, is empathy better than sympathy, or can you be sympathetic without having empathy? You realize that the answer is not a simple vote of one against the other. Having empathy without having sympathy is quite tricky. You have to” feel” as they do before you take the experience of another as your own.