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prasad's avatar

What is difference between Sympathy and Empathy?

Asked by prasad (3859points) August 20th, 2011

Can you give some examples?

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17 Answers

FluffyChicken's avatar

Sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone. Empathy is when you can relate with someone, or when you really understand how it is they are feeling.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Sympathy is being able to relate to another person’s emotions due to having been in a similar situation. I can sympathize with people who have lost a parent or have been turned down for a job application, because both of these have happened to me as well.

Empathy is more about understanding how another person feels in a particular situation, but not necessarily agreeing with it. For example, when a co-worker gets bent out of shape for a work situation that seems easily solvable or not that big of a deal, I can still empathize with how they must be feeling at the time.

Hibernate's avatar

Well both are related to compassion and understanding the other person feelings. Sometimes sympathy is used to describe when you like someone.

Cruiser's avatar

Sympathy is when you say…“awww….that’s bad!” Empathy is when you say…“Wow! I know that had to hurt!”

_zen_'s avatar

A woman has labour pains.

Another woman, a friend who has experienced childbirth, can both sympathize and empathize with her.

A man, the former, only: he has never experienced it and never shall.

thorninmud's avatar

The difference is in the degree of emotional distance. In sympathy, one is aware of another’s plight and understands their feelings cognitively, but there is still a distinct sense that their suffering is not your suffering.

Empathy is much more intimate. That sense of separation is weaker. The other’s feelings are experienced as one’s own feelings, and not on just a cognitive level. One is reflexively moved to relieve that suffering, because it’s no longer “someone else’s” problem.

Earthgirl's avatar

Simply put, sympathy is when your heart goes out to someone, empathy is when you feel their pain as if it were your own.

Blondesjon's avatar

Sympathy is when I feel bad for you. Empathy is when I feel bad with you.

wundayatta's avatar

Damn you, @Earthgirl and @Blondesjon! You stole my lines! But GAs to the both of you.

@Blondesjon When did you become such a sensitive guy?

Since I’ve been sick, my sense of empathy has almost become overwhelming. Now that I’ve learned about depression, there are so many things that I understand now that I didn’t understand before. It sounds so tacky due to Bill Clinton, but I do feel other people’s pain. In fact, all I need are a few details of a person’s life before I am in their life, feeling what they feel—to the point which I can feel things they haven’t even identified yet and point those feelings out to them.

Used to be I was sympathetic to folks with depression. It sounded bad and I was sorry they had to go through that. But once I experienced it for myself, I had a completely different level of awareness. I can now recognize people who have some kind of mental illness when I meet them. They don’t even have to tell me. I know. Because we are the same.

Not all forms of mental illness, though. I’m still not getting it with schizophrenia. It’s hard to empathize with the schizophrenics I see on the street. I am sympathetic, but I don’t really want to feel what they feel. It’s too scary, and I’m not sure I want to suffer the consequences of feeling empathy for them.

Empathy takes a lot out of me. If I’m with someone who is depressed, it is easy to start getting depressed, myself. If I am with someone who is manic, I get manic. The energy from these feelings is very infectious when you feel empathy for someone. When it’s only sympathy, you feel bad about their plight, but you don’t feel their plight. Sympathy is more manageable. Empathy throws you around emotionally speaking.

But empathy can teach you so much. People trust you more easily when they feel your empathy for them. They don’t feel like you judge them when you are empathetic. They feel like you really are trying to see things from their point of view. Empathy is rewarding, but it can be very difficult, emotionally.

marinelife's avatar

Empathy is being able to put yourself in another’s position and feel what they are feeling.

Sympathy is feeling sad for someone else’s pain.

mazingerz88's avatar

Symphaty is when I could understand someone for becoming bored with Facebook.

Emphaty is when I feel for a jelly in Fluther who feels he or she is not getting enough lurve.

flutherother's avatar

Sympathy is when the pain is outside you, empathy is when it is inside.

bea2345's avatar

Sympathy is common; empathy is rarer.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
abysmalbeauty's avatar

Empathy is to have the ability to understand how the other person is feeling at a particular point in time- one might say put yourself in their shoes.

Sympathy takes empathy and graduates it to the next level. Not only are you able to understand how the other person is feeling but you also care for or have concern for the persons situation.

Interestingly enough its somewhat callous in that respect to be empathetic instead of sympathetic. Just understanding how someone feels without wanting the situation to become better I’snt really all that nice in my opinion.

Someone who has no empathy might say “I don’t see why you are so upset, its your own fault you got a D in your history class.”
Where as someone who has empathy might say “I understand why you are frustrated that you’ve received a D in your history class.” (no apology- no well wishing- simply understanding.)
And someone who feels sympathy might say “I’m so sorry you got a D in your history
class. I know you were hoping for a C based on that extra credit project.”

Generally when someone is apologizing to you even though your situation is no fault of theirs its because they feel sympathetic. If they did not- they wouldn’t apologize or express that they care basically. :)

augustlan's avatar

I couldn’t say it any better than @thorninmud or @Blondesjon. I agree with their descriptions entirely.

_zen_'s avatar

To sympathize with someone one must first walk a mile in their shoes. To empathize, one must literally walk a mile in their shoes.

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