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What's the Difference between Sympathy and Empathy?


I found an anonymous comment on the web that tells the difference between sympathy and empathy very well:

Sympathy is feeling sad and pity for the person who’s going through a hardship even without understanding what is he going through, so it is kind of emotional support without being too involved, a feeling that will fade away pretty quickly.
Empathy is putting yourself in someone’s shoes and trying your best to take all his circumstances in consideration in that specific event or situation (what was he thinking, what happened to him that day, how did he feel…etc) which makes you understand why a person behaved or felt in a certain way, therefore you give that person reasons and justifications without being harshly judgemental.


I don't believe you can be emotionally intimate with another person unless you have empathy. This is because if you aren't open to seeing and understanding the other person, you will put your own spin on what's happening.  Your own spin is often wrong and prevents you from seeing and understanding anything other than what you already defined as the story.


Sympathy is a polite and kind response to misfortune and tragedy.  Empathy is a focus on the experience of another to understand as much as you can about their actual experience.


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Certified Discernment Counselor
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Dr. Lisa Terrell is verified by PsychologyToday
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