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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 October 17, 2019

                  How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

                  How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

                  You see your partner every single day. They are the first person you talk to in the morning and the last person you kiss goodnight.

                  But does seeing each other day in and day out equal a healthy relationship? Not necessarily.

                  Spending quality time with your partner is the best way to ensure your relationship stays healthy and strong. This means going above and beyond sitting together while you watch Netflix or going out for the occasional dinner. You deserve more from your relationship – and so does your spouse!

                  What does quality time mean? It means spending time with your spouse without interruption. It’s a chance for you to come together and talk. Communication will build emotional intimacy and trust.

                  Quality time is also about expressing love in a physical way. Not sex, necessarily (but that’s great, too!) but through hand-holding, cuddling, caressing, and tickling. Studies show that these displays of affection will boost partner satisfaction.[1]

                  So how do you spend quality time with your partner? Here are 13 relationship tips on making the most out of your time with your partner.

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                  1. Recognize the Signs

                  If you want a healthy relationship, you have to learn how to recognize the signs that you need to spend more quality time together.

                  Some telltale signs include:

                  • You’re always on your phones.
                  • You value friendships or hobbies over quality time with your spouse.
                  • You aren’t together during important events.
                  • You are arguing more often or lack connection.
                  • You don’t make plans or date nights.
                  • You’re not happy.

                  If you are experiencing any of these relationship symptoms, know that quality time together can reverse the negative effects of the signs above.

                  2. Try New Things Together

                  Have you ever wanted to learn how to play an instrument or speak another language? How about skydive or ballroom dance?

                  Instead of viewing these as solo hobbies and interests, why not involve your partner?

                  Trying new activities together builds healthy relationships because it encourages spouses to rely on one another for emotional and physical support.

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                  Shared hobbies also promote marital friendship, and the Journal of Happiness Studies found that marital satisfaction was twice as high for couples who viewed each other as best friends.[2]

                  3. Schedule in Tech-Free Time

                  Your phone is a great way to listen to music, watch videos, and keep up-to-date with friends and family. But is your phone good for your relationship?

                  Many couples phone snub, or ‘phub’, one another. Studies show that phubbing can lower relationship satisfaction and increase one’s chances of depression.[3]

                  Reduce those chances by removing distractions when spending quality time together and showing your partner they have your full attention.

                  4. Hit the Gym as a Couple

                  One way you can spend more time together as a couple is by becoming workout partners. Studies show that couples are more likely to stay with their exercise routine if they work out together.[4] Couples also work out harder than they would solo. One study found that 95 percent of couples who work out together maintained weight loss compares to the 66 percent of singles who did.[5]

                  Join a gym, do at-home couples’ workouts, try couples yoga, hit the hiking trails, or get your bikes out. No matter which way you choose to exercise, these healthy activities can promote a healthy relationship.

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                  5. Cook Meals Together

                  Pop open a bottle of wine or put some romantic music on while you get busy – in the kitchen, of course!

                  One of the best relationship tips for spending quality time together when you both have busy schedules is to cook meals together.[6]

                  Spice things up and try and prepare a four-course meal or a fancy French dish together. Not only is this a fun way to spend your time together, but it also promotes teamwork.

                  If all goes well, you’ll have a romantic date night meal at home that you prepared with your four hands. And if the food didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, you are guaranteed to have a laugh and create new memories together.

                  6. Have a Regular Date Night

                  Couples experience a greater sense of happiness and less stress when they are spending quality time together.[7] One of the biggest relationship tips for a healthy partnership is to include a date night in your weekly routine.

                  The National Marriage Project found that having a weekly date night can make your relationship seem more exciting and helps prevent relationship boredom.[8] It also lowers the probability of divorce, improves your sex life, and increases healthy communication.

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                  Some great ideas for what to do on your date night include:

                  • Have a movie marathon – Gather up your favorite flicks and cuddle up on the couch.
                  • Play games together – Cards, board games, video games, and other creative outlets are a fun way to spend quality time together.
                  • Recreate your first date – Go back to that restaurant and order the same meal you did when you first got together. You can spice up your evening by pretending you’re strangers meeting for the first time and see how sexy the night gets.
                  • Plan a weekend getaway – There’s nothing better than traveling with the one you love.
                  • Dinner and a movie – A classic!
                  • Try a new restaurant – Make it your mission to rate and try all of the Mexican restaurants/Irish pubs/Italian trattorias in your area.
                  • Have a long sex session – Intimacy promotes the release of the oxytocin hormone which is responsible for a myriad of great feelings.[9]

                  Here’re even more date night ideas for your reference: 50 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples

                  Final Thoughts

                  The benefits of spending quality time together are endless. Here are just some of the ways it can contribute to a healthy relationship:

                  • Improves emotional and physical intimacy
                  • Lowers divorce rates
                  • Improves communication
                  • Reduces marital boredom
                  • Bonds couples closer
                  • Improves friendship
                  • Boosts health
                  • Reduces stress

                  These are all excellent reasons to start making date night a regular part of your week.

                  It’s easy to have a healthy relationship when you set aside dedicated time to share with your spouse. Try new things together, make your spouse your workout buddy, and look for innovative ways to be close and connected.

                  These relationship tips will bring great benefits to your marriage.

                  Featured photo credit: Allen Taylor via unsplash.com

                  Reference

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