Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others. It goes beyond sympathy, which is a feeling of care and understanding for the suffering of others. Both words have similar usage but differ in their emotional meaning.
|Definition||Understanding what others are feeling because you have experienced it yourself or can put yourself in their shoes.||Acknowledging another person's emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance.|
|Example||I know it's not easy to lose weight because I have faced the same problems myself.||When people try to make changes like this (e.g. lose some weight) at first it seems difficult.|
|Relationship||Personal||Friends, family and community ( the experience of others) .|
|Nursing context||Relating with your patient because you have been in a similar situation or experience||Comforting your patient or their family|
|Scope||Personal, It can be one to many in some circumstances||From either one to another person or one to many (or one to a group).|
Sympathy essentially implies a feeling of recognition of another's suffering while empathy is actually sharing another's suffering, if only briefly. Empathy is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes". So empathy is a deeper emotional experience.
Empathy develops into an unspoken understanding and mutual decision making that is unquestioned, and forms the basis of tribal community. Sympathy may be positive or negative, in the sense that it attracts a perceived quality to a perceived self identity, or it gives love and assistance to the unfortunate and needy.
Origin of the words
Sympathy comes from Middle French sympathie, from Late Latin sympathia, from Ancient Greek συμπάθεια (sumpatheia), from σύν (sun, “with, together”) + πάθος (pathos, “suffering”).
The word 'empathy' is a twentieth-century borrowing of Ancient Greek ἐμπάθεια (empatheia, literally “passion”) (formed from ἐν (en-, “in, at”) + πάθος (pathos, “feeling”)), coined by Edward Bradford Titchener to translate German Einfühlung. The modern Greek word εμπάθεια has an opposite meaning denoting strong negative feelings and prejudice against someone.
Compassion can form a base for both empathy and sympathy, and each may be seen as aspects of wisdom, or the means through which wisdom is synthesized. Sympathy also involves caring, but a compassionate sense of assistance and protection for those who are poor and less fortunate. Empathy is expressed when trying to feel someone else’s feeling who generally is known to you.
Examples of empathy and sympathy
To quote an example here: A man goes to hear a lecture. He may hold the following opinions after the encore.
Empathy: "I understand the writer's empathetic study of the subject."
Sympathy: "I can only sympathize with the writer's total lack of knowledge."
It is possible to be empathetic and not sympathetic at the same time. For example: If a person gambles and loses all his money, you may feel empathetic and try to analyze the reason for doing so but you will not be sympathetic towards him as it is his fault entirely in losing the money. On the other hand, you can both empathize and sympathize at the same point. If someone loses a loved one to a disease, you will feel sympathy for them and, if you have ever lost a loved one yourself, you are likely to empathize with their position.
Another example that captures the difference between empathy and sympathy: "When I think about the abuse the serial killer endured as a child, I feel empathy, however I simply cannot sympathize with the choices he made as an adult."
When one exhibits empathy a person doesn't necessarily have to agree with the conclusions being drawn by the person who they are empathizing with. For example, one may empathize with the loss of a loved one but may not agree with another person that the loss be avenged violently.
Empathy as a communication skill
Empathy can be employed as a communication skill. Empathy can allow great communicators to sense the emotions of an audience and is the mutual understanding and inspiration communicated to the audience. A lack of empathy involves a poor sense of communication that fails to understand the perspective of the audience. An audience may feel a positive or negative sympathy to both the communicator and the message as it is transmitted in communication. Empathy can also be found in the artist, musician, and drama, as well as the audience.
Video explaining the differences
This video offers a clear and concise overview of the differences between sympathy and empathy: