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We Are Often Confused Empathy With Sympathy but What’s The Difference Actually?

We Are Often Confused Empathy With Sympathy but What’s The Difference Actually?

In general, sympathy and empathy are often confused with one another. There is good reason for this too, primarily because both words deal with similar emotions and are derived from the Greek term páthos (which pertains to suffering and feeling). These words are also commonly ascribed to situations of sadness and mourning, as people try to identify with a particular group or individual that has been afflicted by tragedy.

Despite the similarities in terms of application and origin, however, there are core differences that separate the two words. Sympathy describes the feelings of compassion and pity that we may have for another person’s plight, for example, whereas empathy enables us to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are suffering and share directly in their sadness.

Empathy vs Sympathy: Exploring the Differences

In our bid to explore this further, let’s return to the Greek origins of both words. We have already touched on how they have been derived from the word ‘Pathos’. However the prefix ‘sym’ in ‘sympathy’ also relates to the Greek iteration ‘syn’ (which means ‘together with’). Conversely, the prefix ’em’ in ’empathy’ derives from the Greek description of ‘within’, highlighting the core difference between showing solidarity with others and vicariously immersing yourself in their plight.

    To put this into context, let’s cast our mind’s back to David Beckham’s sending -off for England in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina. While there was vehement criticism of his actions and the impact that they had on the team (England were eliminated after a valiant display), casual and non-partisan observers had sympathy for Beckham as they believed that he was being harshly treated.

    Fellow professionals who had endured similar scrutiny during their careers expressed empathy with Beckham, however, as they were able to place themselves directly in his shoes and understand precisely how he was being affected. The same principle applies to individuals who have also suffered heavy criticism or persecution in the workplace, even if their experience not directly related to Beckham’s.

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    Those who were close to Beckham also expressed empathy, as they had endured similar afflictions also suffered after the event and found themselves vicariously sharing in the English midfielders plight.

    How do these differences manifest themselves in terms of thought and deed?

    To begin with, sympathizers will share their concern and condolences with others while openly admitting that they have no direct knowledge of how they actually feel. This often translates into generic support that is offered unconditionally, without actionable advice or additional input that may diminish the sufferer’s state of mind.

    In contrast, those with the ability to emphasize will instantly immerse themselves in the shoes of others, by tapping into a shared experience or relating to a similar one. This means that you visualize how the individual in question is feeling, and have the subsequent ability to treat them in a way that is relevant and appropriate. Similarly, an empathetic outlook enables you to offer valuable insight and advice, which may help the individual to develop new coping mechanisms.

    Sympathy And Empathy Are Different, But They Are Central to You Becoming a More Compassionate Person

      At this point, it is worth noting that being both empathetic and sympathetic is mutually exclusive. This means you can showcase both individually, either simultaneously or as each individual scenario requires. It is important to remember this, as having both a sympathetic and an empathetic mind-set enables you to become a compassionate person who can offer the relevant comfort and support to those in need.

      Not only this, but there are also other scientific and psychological benefits of being compassionate, including the following:

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      1. It Uplifts Those Around You

        In simple terms, showcasing compassion has been proven to have an uplifting impact on those around you. According to Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia, witnessing people help others creates a state of elevation in the human mind, while it also empowers them to do the same.

        2. It Inspires Action

          On a similar note, compassion is also proven as a great motivator of action. Certain studies have explored this at length, revealing that subjects who had been meditating and focused inwardly were more likely to act on their sense of compassion, even if it opposed a social convention. This shows how powerful compassion can be, and highlights its ability to drive specific actions.

          3. It is Infectious

            We have already touched on how compassion can create a state of elevation and inspire others, and there is no doubt that is has a dominant effect on the mind of others (particularly those who have benefited from acts of compassion). James Fowler of UC San Diego claims that this is the representation of how kindness reaches out to others and sparks a chain reaction, and not only because people feel compelled to comply with the actions of others.

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            4. It Makes Us Less Likely to Avoid Those in Pain

              Let’s face facts; the sight of others being in pain can be distressing, and it is natural to seek flight during such times. It has been proven that a fortified sense of compassion changes this conditioned response over time, as avoiding negative emotions is replaced directly with positive compassionate actions.

              5. It Makes Us More Attractive to Others

                From a purely insular perspective, it is also interesting to note that being compassionate makes us more attractive to others. Studies on dating preferences have shown that both men and women rank kindness as one of the most important qualities that they look for in a partner, as this ties in to our fundamental desire to be loved and taken care of at all times.

                How Can You Become More Compassionate as an Individual

                There are numerous benefits of being compassionate, far more than we have listed here. In order to capitalise on these you will need to become a more rounded and compassionate individual, however, and the good news is that compassion can be learned and honed through training techniques such as meditation.

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                  But what are the core elements of this, and what practical steps can you take to become a more compassionate individual? Let’s take a look:

                  1. Listen because who doesn’t want to be heard?

                  At the heart of every compassionate person is an innate ability to listen, but this is one of the hardest life-skills to develop. It requires us to suspend all judgement and offer our undivided attention to speakers, as we digest their words and the context in which they are spoken. This is central to acts of both sympathy and empathy, as listening enables us to respond in the most relevant and impactful manner.

                  2. Respond to the Emotion because this shows your care.

                  As we have already said, it is important to consider the context that words are spoken in when listening to others, and more specifically the emotion that underpins them. By delving beyond literal interpretations and accepting that words alone can conceal emotions such as guilt, fear and anxiety, we can understand others in greater depth and build compassionate relationships going forward.

                  3. Prioritize the Person so they feel important

                  When we talk about compassion, empathy and sympathy, we are almost always referring to someone who is spiraling into a negative path. The key to be compassionate is to recognize the positive attributes that define the person in question, and never lose sight of their human qualities. This ensures that you judge each specific situation rather than the person involved, while it also offers you an opportunity to reinforce these characteristics and build positivity.

                  4. Be Patient because there might be a lot going on.

                  When attempting to reach someone who is gripped by negative emotions, it can be difficult to build trust and rapport. While the tips listed above will help you to become more compassionate and a superior listener, you will also need to display tremendous patience as people begin to realize that they can open up to you. This will certainly require a selfless outlook, and one that always places the needs of the sufferer ahead of your own.

                  5. Respond With Feeling to show you feel their sorrow, pain and worry.

                  No matter how much listening you have to do as a compassionate individual, there will always come a time to respond. This is where your understanding of the other person and their plight is imperative, as this should condition your response and promote an honest, meaningful reaction. The key here is that you respond with feeling , as this showcases the fact that you care and remain immersed in the other person’s trials.

                  The Last Word

                  While we have observed numerous differences between sympathy and empathy, they share a common origin while both lay the foundations for becoming a caring and compassionate person. The benefits of this are numerous, both for you and the mental well-being of those around you.

                  Featured photo credit: PublicCo / Pixabay via pixabay.com

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                  Last Updated on June 13, 2019

                  How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

                  How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

                  Think you have a boring life?

                  The definition of boring is dull or not interesting. Maybe you’ve been doing the same thing and living the same life for too long, or maybe your daily routine is limiting your growth and happiness. Whatever your reason is, the following list of 20 things can definitely make any day more interesting. Some of them are silly, while some are more meaningful, so hopefully just reading the list makes your life less boring and sparks your creativity.

                  Let’s dive in the list to quit your boring life and start living an interesting (and meaning) one!

                  1. Channel Your 7-Year-Old Self

                  What would he or she want to do right now? Color? Paint? Run around outside? Play dress up? Eat with your hands? Play that instrument hiding in the back of your closet that you haven’t touched in years?

                  Just because you’re a grown up doesn’t mean any of this stuff will be less enjoyable than you remember it. Give yourself permission to play.

                  2. Go Play with Kids

                  Speaking of little kids, if you have your own or access to any (in a non-creepy way, like they’re your niece or your best friend’s kid, you get the idea) go play with them!

                  They didn’t create an entire show called Kids Say The Darndest Things because kids aren’t hilarious. They also keep things so simple, and we can really stand to be reminded of this and stop allowing ourselves to get bogged down in boring details.

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                  3. Order a Hot Dog

                  While you’re eating it, Google: “What’s in a hot dog?” You decide whether or not you want to finish it.

                  4. For the Ladies: Wear Your Sexiest Lingerie Under Your Work Clothes

                  Your “little secret” will leave you feeling anything but boring all day!

                  5. Play Cell Phone Roulette

                  You’ll need at least one buddy for this. Scroll through the contacts in your phone, stop on a random one and call the person.

                  You could spark an incredible catch up session or be incredibly awkward. Neither are boring.

                  6. Fill out a Pack of Thank-You Cards

                  Give them to random people who probably don’t get thanked too often for doing what they do ever day.

                  Ideas: police officers, librarians, servers, baristas, cab drivers, sanitation workers, teachers, people behind any check out counter, receptionists, your friends, the guy at the falafel stand, etc.

                  7. Sign up for a Class in Something You’ve “Always Wanted to Do”, or Something That Makes You Really Uncomfortable

                  Ideas: pole dancing, salsa lessons, improv, pottery, cooking, knitting (yup, there are classes for this, too!), karate, boxing, something techy like the workshops they run in Apple stores, get Rosetta Stone and learn that language you’ve always wanted to speak, etc.

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                  What’s good about joining an interest class is that you will also meet new people!

                  8. Interview Your Grandparents About Their Lives

                  You can bet they’ve had some crazy experiences you probably never knew about.

                  9. Get up on Stage at an Open Mic Night

                  Whether you’re funny or not, get up on stage and just talk funny. And if you’re not, memorize a few of your favorite jokes and tell those!

                  10. Do Something for Someone Else That You Wish Someone Would Do for You

                  We all have a few ideas on this list. I promise you will feel amazing after and anything but bored.

                  11. Start a DIY Project in Your Home

                  It doesn’t have to be super complicated. If you need ideas, there’re plenty on Pinterest. Or you can also check out these 30 Awesome DIY Projects that You’ve Never Heard of.

                  12. Plan a Weekend Trip or an All-Out Vacation

                  This will give you something to look forward to.

                  Even if you don’t have the time or money to go on a vacation, plan for a staycation, which is same fun and relaxing!

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                  13. People Watch

                  Find a bench in a crowded area (centers of transportation like airports, bus stops and train stations are great for this!) and just observe.

                  People are infinitely interesting.

                  14. Eat Something You’ve Never Eaten Before

                  Bonus points if it’s a random fruit or veggie.

                  15. Dance

                  You can get your friends together for a night on the town or just pull up a video on YouTube and bust a move from your own living room.

                  If you’re feeling extra brave, you can even dance in public and get other people involved.

                  16. Go to YOUTUBE and Search “Funny Pets” or “Funny Babies”

                  This is also a great quickie ab workout as you will be laughing hysterically.

                  17. Pick up a Book and Start Reading

                  Check out the NY Times Best Sellers lists and grab a new book you can get lost in.

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                  18. Step Away from the Computer and Go Get Some Time with People You Care About in Real Life

                  Facebook stalking doesn’t count as real social interaction. You can even share this post with your friends and vote on which one you’d like to do together!

                  19. Check out a Museum You’ve Never Been to Before

                  OK, depending on your interests, this one might actually be boring. If you love learning, art or different cultures though, this one is for you!

                  20. Write a List of Things You Desire and Truly Want

                  This is a great way to help you figure out the real reason why you’re feeling bored about your life. Maybe you haven’t really done things that you truly enjoy? Maybe what you’ve wanted to do all the time has been left behind?

                  Think about the list of things you really want to do, and ask yourself why you aren’t doing these things (yet). Then start taking your first step to make what you want happen.

                  Now go make your life interesting and live your dream life!

                  More About Living a Fulfilling Life

                  Featured photo credit: Kev Costello via unsplash.com

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