Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy: Grammar Guide
Sympathy vs. Empathy
I recently received a hub request to write an article on the difference between sympathy and empathy. Because I received my undergrad in Psychology, I had my own thoughts on the differences already, but decided to add to my knowledge by doing some research. I was amazed at how others described the differences and found a few sites that I feel were incorrect in their distinctions. Using my own knowledge as well as definitions found elsewhere, this article will explore the true differences between these two terms. If you have any thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page.
Difference between Sympathy and Empathy: My Definitions
Empathy is a much deeper sense of emotion. It's a sense that, along with feeling sympathetic to someone's situation, you can feel that person's feelings and state of being. (Sometimes you can be empathetic and not sympathetic but this isn't as common, e.g., an abuser may understand the feeling of being abused, but still abuses.) Sympathy, on the other hand, is a feeling of understanding the issue and wanting to help the person in need. Most of the time empathy and sympathy are used in a sense of sharing unhappy feelings, but the sharing of happy feelings is also possible. Here are some examples:
Sympathy:I am sorry for your loss. What can I do to help you during this difficult time?
Empathy: I feel and understand your pain; my grandmother passed away last year as well.
Sympathy: A doctor may understand a patient's illness and try to alleviate the pain, but she may not feel his/her distress and pain.
Empathy: A cancer support group can empathize with the radiation therapy of a member and understand his/her fear because they have experienced the procedure as well.
Parts of the Sympathy definitions listed below surprised me because they seem to closely emulate my own definition of empathy - yet the distinctions Wikipedia and Answers.com make about viewpoint help to clarify differences between these two terms.
- like empathy, sympathy involves at least some level of shared feeling with another person
- one can sympathize with a person's interests as well as emotions
- sympathy requires not just shared feeling, but a shared opinion about that feeling.
Sympathy...implies a degree of equal feeling, that is, the sympathiser views the matter similarly to how the person themselves does. It thus implies concern, or care or a wish to alleviate negative feelings others are experiencing.— Wikipedia
The act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another b : the feeling or mental state brought about by such sensitivity <have sympathy for the poor>
The act or power of sharing the feelings of another; a feeling or an expression of pity or sorrow for the distress of another; compassion or commiseration. Often used in the plural. Synonym: pity
Sympathy exists when the feelings or emotions of one person give rise to similar feelings in another person, creating a state of shared feeling. In common usage, sympathy is usually the sharing of unhappiness or suffering, but it can also refer to sharing other (positive) emotions as well. In a broader sense, it can refer to the sharing of political or ideological sentiments, such as in the phrase "a communist sympathizer".
The psychological state of sympathy is closely linked with that of empathy, but is not identical to it. Empathy refers to the ability to perceive and directly experientially feel another person's emotions as they feel them, but makes no statement as to how they are viewed. Sympathy, by contrast, implies a degree of equal feeling, that is, the sympathiser views the matter similarly to how the person themselves does. It thus implies concern, or care or a wish to alleviate negative feelings others are experiencing.
The definitions I found on empathy all emphasize shared experience and understanding. They talk about an identification with another person that goes beyond language, that is less intellectual than sympathy and more purely emotional.
- Empathy does not require explanation or language; it's an understanding that happens automatically, often without effort.
- Empathy is a meeting of emotions, not a meeting of minds. You can empathize with someone's direct emotional experience but not with an intellectual cause or goal.
Empathy is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes", or experiencing the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself, a sort of emotional resonance.— Wikipedia
The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner;
Identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives; the attribution of one's own feelings to an object; Sympathetic, sad concern for someone in misfortune. Synonym is also pity.
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia:
Ability to imagine oneself in another's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. The empathic actor or singer is one who genuinely feels the part he or she is performing. The spectator of a work of art or the reader of a piece of literature may similarly become involved in what he or she observes or contemplates. The use of empathy was an important part of the psychological counseling technique developed by Carl R. Rodgers.
Empathy (from the Greek εμπάθεια, "to suffer with") is commonly defined as one's ability to recognize, perceive and directly experientially feel the emotion of another. As the states of mind, beliefs, and desires of others are intertwined with their emotions, one with empathy for another may often be able to more effectively define another's modes of thought and mood. Empathy is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes", or experiencing the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself, a sort of emotional resonance.
Distinctions and Similarities between Sympathy and Empathy
pity for another's pain
occurs without language
expressed through language