What is the difference between Empathy and Sympathy?

A friend who is experiencing some sort of loss or unpleasant situation feels compelled to sympathize with us and we want it to be a mutually beneficial and encouraging experience. Is there a way to respond to any kind of crisis, whether it’s physical or emotional, in a way that conveys warmth and understanding? Is it sympathy or empathy that we show?

Empathy and sympathy are sometimes conflated, but they are in fact quite distinct. According to Merriam Webster, empathy is the ability to understand another person’s sentiments, but not necessarily share them. Empathy is the capacity or action of entering into or sharing another’s feelings or pursuits. Empathy is the capacity to comprehend another person’s point of view. The idea of projecting one’s feelings is implicit in the concept of empathy. It is possible to have empathy for someone even if you don’t know how they express their feelings because of what you know about them.

Sympathy is defined as a sense of sadness or sorrow for the tragedy of another. Despite the fact that sympathy may not be as warmly accepted as empathy, mournful pity can provide some warmth and comfort in the face of another’s troubles— provided it is delivered with care and sincerity, of course. However, if you feel pity for someone, they may feel alienated from you as a result of your sympathy. Always make an effort to reply to someone in a genuine manner. It’s important to keep in mind the feelings and needs of the individual you’re trying to help, too. Even simply being there in silence can be really beneficial in many situations.

“Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable one.”

– Dr. Brené Brown

Empathy may bring people together and make them feel included, but sympathy generates an uneven power dynamic and can lead to increased isolation and detachment, according to Dr. Brené Brown. It’s a bad consequence given that sympathy is normally a good thing. Dr. Brown explains how to demonstrate empathy in four simple actions. placing yourself in the shoes of another, Listening without making any judgments, Being able to recognize in another individual’s feelings that you yourself may have experienced, Assuring the other person that you can identify with their feelings.

“Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”

– Dr. Brené Brown

As Brené Brown points out, empathy requires us to remember or reflect on unpleasant feelings. Feelings such as frustration, anxiety, and confusion are being recognized as we try to understand another person’s perspective. Opting for empathy over sympathy or complete disengagement can be challenging at first, but the long-term benefits far outweigh these difficulties. Because when people are confronted with a problem or a difficult situation, they frequently aren’t looking for a quick fix. There is a possibility that they are searching for someone who can help them feel less isolated in their efforts to solve the problem. Someone who has been through a similar situation may be what they are looking for. To connect with someone, you have to be able to empathize with their situation.


‘Sympathy’ Vs. ‘Empathy’: What’s the Difference? | Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/sympathy-empathy-difference.

RSA Short: Empathy – Brené Brown. (2013, December 10). Brené Brown. https://brenebrown.com/videos/rsa-short-empathy/.

Sympathy Vs. Empathy. (n.d.). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/202007/sympathy-vs-empathy.