What’s the Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy?

When we hear that someone has been hurt, our first reaction is often to feel sorry for them. We may speak comforting words like, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.

But what’s the difference between sympathy and empathy? In this article, we’ll explore the differences between empathy and sympathy and discuss when it’s best to use each word.

What Is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective.

Empathy is a powerful tool for connecting with others, but it can also be challenging. You have to be able to see through the other person’s eyes and understand what they’re going through before you can empathize with them. This requires some self-reflection, but it may also require that you put aside your own feelings and thoughts first to focus on the other person.

What Is Sympathy?

Sympathy is an emotional response to the suffering of others. It’s a feeling that arises when one sees another’s pain and wants to help them. Sympathy can be a great thing- it can motivate us to do something positive in response to someone else’s pain, or it can simply mean that we feel bad for them.

However, when we feel sympathy for someone else, we can focus too much on our own feelings instead of what the other person is going through.

This can lead us to make decisions about how to act based on our feelings, rather than what would actually be helpful to the person in need. It can also put pressure on us to have to do something to help them (even if what we think is helpful isn’t what they actually need).

Empathy Is Feeling Another Person’s Experience, Sympathy Is Feeling Sorry for Someone

Empathy is feeling another person’s experience as if it were your own – feeling sorry for them not just because you know what happened, but because you understand how they feel. It’s about seeing things from their point of view and putting yourself in their shoes.

Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone – it’s an emotional reaction that comes from compassion or concern for another’s misfortune or distress. You can feel sympathy without knowing how the other person is dealing with the situation they’re going through. You just need to acknowledge that they might be having a difficult time and let them know that you care about their feelings.

Empathy Occurs When You Understand Another Person’s Emotions, Sympathy May Not Require Understanding the Other Person’s Emotions

Empathy can be an important skill in relationships because it allows you to feel with someone and make their pain your own. It can help people connect and form close bonds.

Sympathy, on the other hand, is a feeling of pity for someone who is suffering or in trouble. Sympathy does not necessarily require understanding the other person’s emotional state; rather, it is about helping them feel better, regardless of what they are going through.

Example: Let us say you see a friend crying at work after receiving some upsetting news. If you go up to them and ask what happened and try to figure out why they’re upset, that’s empathy.

However, if instead of asking questions, you just say, “I’m so sorry” and pat them on the back, that’s sympathy – you are expressing your sympathy without trying to understand why they’re upset (you might even assume that the tears are related to something else entirely).

Sympathy Is Often Conveyed in Words, Empathy Can Be Conveyed in Words or Through Actions

Sympathy is an emotion and a feeling of compassion toward someone who is suffering. It is often expressed in words such as “I am so sorry” or “I’m here for you.” Empathy is also an emotion, but it is more than just a feeling; it’s the ability to understand how someone else feels based on your own experiences.

This means that you can convey empathy in a variety of ways: through verbal expressions, through actions that show you are trying to help the other person (such as with their homework), or even by giving the other person space to deal with what they are going through without trying to solve it for them (which can be incredibly helpful).

Both empathy and sympathy are important tools for building relationships; however, there are some situations where one might be more appropriate than the other.

For example, if someone close to you breaks up with their partner, it may be better to show sympathy instead of empathy, because empathy would mean that you know exactly how the person feels about the breakup – and you probably do not.

Empathy Helps Us Build Relationships, Sympathy May Hinder Relationship Building

Empathy helps us build relationships and connections with others, while sympathy can hinder relationship building by making the other person feel like they are pitiful or helpless.

When we feel empathy for someone, we put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand how they feel. We feel connected to them on an emotional level, and this can help us build a stronger relationship.

On the other hand, when we feel sympathy for someone, we sometimes see them as weak or inferior. We may feel sorry for them, but we have no real emotional connection to them. This can hinder the building of a relationship because the other person may feel that we pity them instead of really caring about them.

Empathy Is Something We Can Learn and Practice, Sympathy Is Something That Comes More Naturally

Empathy is a skill that can be learned and developed over time. If we want to become more empathetic, we can start by paying attention to our own emotions and feelings, and then try to understand how others might feel in similar situations. We can also practice active listening, which means really focusing on what the other person is saying and trying to see things from their perspective.

Sympathy, on the other hand, is more innate to most people. We are wired to feel sympathy for others when they are going through hard times, and this instinct often requires no effort on our part.

Empathy Allows Mistakes and Imperfection, Sympathy May Focus on the Wrong or Bad

Sympathy means that you feel bad for someone because they’re going through something difficult. It’s like your heart goes out to them and wants to help them feel better.

But sympathy can sometimes be a little tricky. If someone doesn’t know what they’re doing wrong or why they’re having trouble, telling them they’re in the wrong can make things worse.

That’s because sympathy often comes with the assumption that there’s something wrong with the person— and the problem isn’t so much so you can fix things for them by giving advice or sharing your own experiences.

On the other hand, empathy is different from sympathy because it allows for room for mistakes and imperfection! When you empathize with someone who’s going through something difficult, you let them be as imperfect as possible and still feel supported. You don’t try to solve their problems or give them advice when isn’t needed, you just sit with them and feel what they’re feeling.

Sympathy Comes From a Place of Pity, Empathy Comes From a Place of Respect

When we feel sympathy for someone, we may see them as weak and in need of help. We may feel that we need to take care of them or comfort them because they are unable to do so themselves.

Empathy, on the other hand, is based on respect. We see the person we are empathizing with as an equal, even if we disagree with them. We understand that they are experiencing something and try to see things from their perspective.

One important difference between sympathy and empathy is that empathy does not require that we agree with the person we are empathizing with. We can still have compassion for someone who is going through a hard time, even if we disagree with their decisions or actions.

Sympathy, on the other hand, may require that we share the same opinion as the person we sympathize with. If they are sad, we must also be sad. If they are happy, we must also be happy. Empathy allows us to experience another person’s emotions without being drawn into them ourselves.

Sympathy May Interrupt Communication, Empathy Supports It

Someone who feels sympathy is likely to interrupt their conversation partner by saying something like, “I’m so sorry this happened to you!” or “I wish there was something I could do for you.” This type of response may make them feel worse because it makes them feel like no one cares about what happened.

On the other hand, someone who feels empathy will not interrupt their conversation partner but will listen intently until they finish speaking before responding with an acknowledgment or encouragement, “That sounds really hard” or “What can we do together?“.

This type of response helps encourage communication between two people rather than interrupting them, which makes it easier for both parties to get the support they need from each other when one person is going through a difficult time.

Empathy Encourages People to Grow, Sympathy Encourages People to Stay the Same

When someone says they have empathy for another person, what they really mean is that they put themselves in their shoes and try to understand what they’re going through.

This can be a powerful tool if used correctly because it encourages people to grow: it helps them understand why certain things happen and how they can change their behavior to prevent them from happening again.

Sympathy encourages people to stay where they are- and not change or evolve. It can be a helpful feeling when someone needs short-term support, but it does not actually help us learn anything new about ourselves or others; it only supports us while we’re going through something difficult.

Empathy Takes Effort, Sympathy Comes Easy

In general, sympathy comes easier to us than empathy. We may feel sorry for someone after they’ve been hurt, but we don’t always have to go to the trouble of understanding what they’re feeling.

Empathy, on the other hand, requires more work. We have to make an effort to understand where the other person is coming from, what they’re feeling, and why.

There are a few reasons why sympathy might come easier than empathy. For one, it’s often easier to identify with someone if we share similar experiences. If we’ve been hurt in the past, we can relate to someone who is hurting now.

But simply sharing similar experiences doesn’t mean we understand how the other person feels. It’s also possible to feel sorry for someone without really understanding what they’re going through.

Empathy, on the other hand, requires us to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We must try to see things from their perspective and understand how they’re feeling. This can be difficult, especially if we don’t have any personal experience with what the other person is going through. But the effort is worth it because empathy allows us to connect with others on a deeper level.

Ultimately, empathy takes more effort but leads to a more intense connection with others. Sympathy is often easier and more automatic, but it doesn’t provide the same level of understanding. If we want to connect with someone who’s suffering, empathy is the better choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should you say you have empathy for someone?

There are some situations in which it is appropriate to say that you have empathy for someone. One such scenario is when someone has been hurt and you want to express your empathy. This makes you feel connected to the person in some way and that you understand their pain.

Another scenario in which it is appropriate to say that you have empathy for someone is when they are going through a difficult time.

For example, if your friend has just lost a loved one, you might say that you have empathy for them because you know how much they are suffering. In this case, empathy goes beyond feeling sorry for the person; it means that you are willing to help them through a difficult time.

There are also times when it is also appropriate to say that you have empathy for animals or other living things. For example, if you see a video of an animal being hurt, you might say that you have empathy for them because you can understand how much pain they are in. This kind of empathy is often called compassion and means that you feel a strong desire to help the animal or living being in question.

Overall, there are many occasions when it is appropriate to say that you have empathy for someone. Empathy is a strong word that shows you care about the person and want to help them in any way you can.

When should you say you have sympathy for someone?

There are some situations when it might be appropriate to express sympathy to someone. If you know someone who is going through a difficult time, or if they have recently suffered a loss, you might express sympathy to them. Sympathy is often seen as a way to show support and understanding for someone who is going through a difficult time.

However, there are also situations when it might be appropriate to express sympathy for someone because of something they have done. For example, if someone has made a mistake or done something you disagree with, you might say that you sympathize with the person but don’t condone their actions.

Another is when someone had a bad day, you might say, “I’m sorry your day was so rough.” This shows that you feel bad for the person and want to help them improve the situation.

Is sympathy better than empathy?

There are many debates on the topic of sympathy and empathy. Some people argue that sympathy is better because it allows us to detach from the situation and offer support without feeling overwhelmed. Others argue that empathy is the better choice because it allows us to connect with the person suffering and understand their experience more deeply.

Both sympathy and empathy have their advantages. In some cases, it may be more helpful to offer sympathy – for example, if someone has lost a loved one, they may not want or need anyone to share their grief and loss.

In other cases, empathy may be more beneficial – for example, if someone is going through a difficult experience, they may be glad to have someone who understands what they are going through and can support them.

It’s important to remember that when deciding which word to use, you need to consider the situation at hand and what will be most helpful to the person suffering.


Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling and understand their perspective, while sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Both are important for interpersonal relationships, but empathy is especially beneficial because it allows people to build better relationships.

Sympathy can also be helpful at times, but it often does not result in meaningful change. We hope this article has helped you understand the difference between empathy and sympathy and how both can benefit your life and relationships.

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