Advertising

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

Advertising
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.

    Advertising

    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:

      Advertising

      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.

            Advertising

            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.

                Advertising

                  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.

                  Advertising

                  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

                  More by this author

                  The One Strategy to Achieve Your Goals With Minimal Effort 6 Ways To Wake Up Early Without Feeling Tired 10 Reasons A Long-Distance Relationship Will Work 12 iPhone 6 Tricks You Probably Don’t Know But Should We Are Often Confused Empathy With Sympathy but What’s The Difference Actually?

                  Trending in Communication

                  1 10 Signs You Are in a Codependent Relationship (And What To Do About It) 2 I Want To Be Happy: 7 Science-Backed Ways to Find Happiness 3 13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently 4 10 Morning Habits Of Happy People 5 What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

                  Read Next

                  Advertising
                  Advertising

                  Last Updated on July 20, 2021

                  How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

                  Advertising
                  How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

                  You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

                  Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

                  Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

                  Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

                  1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

                  According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

                  “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

                  Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

                  Warming up

                  If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

                  If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

                  Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

                  Advertising

                  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
                  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
                  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

                  Stay hydrated

                  Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

                  To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

                  Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

                  Meditate

                  Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

                  Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

                  Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

                  Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

                  2. Focus on your goal

                  One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

                  Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

                  Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

                  Advertising

                  Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

                  If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

                  3. Convert negativity to positivity

                  There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

                  ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

                  It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

                  Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

                  Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

                  Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

                  4. Understand your content

                  Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

                  Advertising

                  However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

                  “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

                  Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

                  Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

                  One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

                  5. Practice makes perfect

                  Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

                  In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

                  Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

                  6. Be authentic

                  There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

                  Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

                  Advertising

                  Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

                  To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

                  With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

                  Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

                  7. Post speech evaluation

                  Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

                  Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

                  We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

                  You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

                  Improve your next speech

                  As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

                  Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

                  Advertising

                  • How did I do?
                  • Are there any areas for improvement?
                  • Did I sound or look stressed?
                  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
                  • Was I saying “um” too often?
                  • How was the flow of the speech?

                  Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

                  If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

                  Reference

                  Read Next