Empathy vs Sympathy

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When trying to console a friend in need who’s really upset or disturbed there are often two things you might feel. You will either be empathetic towards their problem or sympathetic for the person. While both may be similar, there’s quite a difference between the two. For example, when someone loses a parent you usually feel sorry for them, because you would hate to be in their shoes. That’s sympathy. Sometimes people don’t really enjoy receiving sympathy as they feel like you’re giving them pity. I know that I don’t enjoy receiving pity, because it seems to me like people are telling me that their life is much better right now. I know that’s not what they mean by it, but I can’t help to feel that way anyway. When I’m upset, I don’t consider the fact that their only trying to help.

As with empathy it’s a bit better for consoling, because there is a sort of mutual connection and makes the conversation a bit more personal. Knowing that someone has gone through the same thing, you don’t feel so alone. It makes you feel like you can get through it since they have and they might know how to help you if you don’t think you can. It’s not only that, but just opening up makes someone feel closer to you. You tell them, “I’m sorry about your father. My father died three months ago due to cancer. It’s tough but you learn to keep living.” This would give someone hope that the feelings they are going through right now are only temporary. There is an issue with empathy though. Some assume they know exactly what someone is feeling because they went through something similar, but when his or her problem is a bit more serious (at least to them) then they might get upset. Upset at the fact that you tried putting them on the same level when really you aren’t. I personally don’t agree with this reaction, because I believe how serious a problem is really dependent on the person going through them. Although, I understand what can be going on in their mind while they say that.

I’ve seen people trying to use the tactic of making someone’s problem less severe than they think it is, trying to convince them that they are upset over nothing. These people assume that if they convince them that there is no point in getting upset, they won’t be anymore. This usually never works. In my experience, it’s only made me more upset and made all the pain I have been going through seem unimportant. This is often seen in the “It’s only high school. Things seem serious now, but when you graduate they won’t be.” tactic. It is serious, because it’s serious to the person. I don’t believe that’s really a hard concept to grasp. As for sympathy, this can also be a good way to help people if done right. I’d say try not to make yourself seem in a better situation than them. Don’t compare yourselves and especially don’t be condescending in any way. Really… just try to be there for them. If they need help, whether that be a favor or just someone to talk to. I’d say letting them know that you’ll be there would be very nice to a person. It’s also best to remember, that sometimes people don’t want to be helped out.. they will most likely later, but for that time don’t try and push them.

You don’t only feel empathy when you’ve been through the same situation, but you can also feel it when you are familiar with the emotion they are expressing. You know how it feels to be that mad or depressed. You’ve learned how to cope with this, and it’s best to try and teach them those ways. Empathy is experienced all the time. You feel happier when around happy people, sadder around sad people. My favorite empathetic experience is the yawn. It’s not really “contagious” but when you see someone yawn you feel tired and you yawn because of it.

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