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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 August 19, 2019

                  How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

                  How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

                  We live in a world that constantly tells us what to do, how to act, what to be. Knowing how to be true to yourself and live the life you want can be a challenge.

                  When someone asks how we are, we assume that the person does not mean the question sincerely, for it would lead to an in depth conversation. So telling them that you are good or fine, even if you’re not, is the usual answer.

                  In an ideal world, we would stop and truly listen. We wouldn’t be afraid to be ourselves. Instead, when we answer about how we are doing, our mask, the persona we show the world, tightens. Sometimes even more so than it might have been before. Eventually, it becomes hard to take off, even when you’re alone.

                  Imagine a world where we asked how someone was doing and they really told us. Imagine a world where there were no masks, only transparency when we talked to one another.

                  If you want to live in a world that celebrates who you are, mistakes and all, take off the mask. It doesn’t mean you have to be positive or fine all the time.

                  According to a Danish psychologist, Svend Brinkman, we expect each other to be happy and fine every second, and we expect it of ourselves. And that “has a dark side.”[1] Positive psychology can have its perks but not at the expense at hiding how you truly feel in order to remain seemingly positive to others.

                  No one can feel positive all the time and yet, that is what our culture teaches us to embrace. We have to unlearn this. That said, telling others you are ‘“fine”’ all the time is actually detrimental to your wellbeing, because it stops you from being assertive, from being authentic or your truest self.

                  When you acknowledge a feeling, it leads you to the problem that’s causing that feeling; and once you identify the problem, you can find a solution to it. When you hide that feeling, you stuff it way down so no one can help you.You can’t even help yourself.

                  Feelings are there for one reason: to be felt. That doesn’t mean you have to act on that feeling. It just means that you start the process of problem solving so you can live the life you want.

                  1. Embrace Your Vulnerability

                  When you are your true self, you can better self-advocate or stand up for what you need. Your self-expression matters, and you should value your voice. It’s okay to need things, it’s okay to speak up, and it’s okay not to be okay.

                  Telling someone you are simply “fine” when you are not, does your story and your journey a great disservice. Being true to yourself entails embracing all aspects of your existence.

                  When you bring your whole self to the table, there is nothing that you can’t beat. Here’re 7 benefits of being vulnerable you should learn.

                  Can you take off the mask? This is the toughest thing anyone can do. We have learned to wait until we are safe before we start to be authentic.

                  In relationships especially, this can be hard. Some people avoid vulnerability at any cost. And in our relationship with ourselves, we can look in the mirror and immediately put on the mask.

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                  It all starts with your story. You have been on your own unique journey. That journey has led you here, to the person you are today. You have to be unafraid, and embrace all aspects of that journey.

                  You should seek to thrive, not just survive. That means you do not have to compete or compare yourself with anyone.

                  Authenticity means you are enough. It’s enough to be who you are to get what you want.

                  What if for the first time ever, you were real? What if you said what you wanted to say, did what you wanted to do, and didn’t apologize for it?

                  You were assertive, forthcoming in your opinions or actions to stand for what is right for you, (rather than being passive or aggressive) in doing so. You didn’t let things get to you. You knew you had something special to offer.

                  That’s where we all should be.

                  So, answer me this:

                  How are you, really?

                  And know that no matter the answer, you should still be accepted.

                  Bravery is in the understanding that you still may not be accepted for your truth.

                  Bravery is knowing you matter even when others say that you do not.

                  Bravery is believing in yourself when all evidence counters doing so (i.e. past failures or losses)

                  Bravery is in being vulnerable while knowing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

                  It’s taking control.

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                  2. Choose Your Attitude in Adversity

                  You can take control of your destiny and live the life you want by being true to yourself. You can start anytime. You can start today.

                  You can start with one day at a time, just facing what happens that day. Most of us get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of a big change. Even if the only thing we change is our attitude.

                  In one instant, you can become a different person with a change of attitude. When you take control of your attitude, you become able to better understand what is around you. This allows you to move forward.

                  Originally, you may have had a life plan. It could have started when you were little; you were hoping to become a mermaid, doctor, astronaut or all three when you grew up. You were hoping to be someone. You were hoping to be remembered.

                  You can still dream those dreams, but eventually reality sets in. Obstacles and struggles arise. You set on a different path when the last one didn’t work out. You think of all the “shoulds” in your life in living the life you want. You should be doing this…should be doing that…

                  Clayton Barbeau, psychologist, coined the term “shoulding yourself.’[2] When we are set on one path and find ourselves doing something different. It becomes all the things you should be doing rather than seeing the opportunities right in front of you.

                  But in all this disarray, did you lose sight of the real you?

                  It may be in our perceived failures and blunders that we lose sight of who we are, because we try to maintain position and status.

                  In being who we really are and achieving what we really want, we need to be resilient: How to Build Resilience to Face What Life Throws at You

                  It means that we do not see all possibilities of what might happen, but must trust ourselves to begin again, and continue to build the life we want. In the face of adversity, you must choose your attitude.

                  Can attitude overcome adversity? It certainly helps. While seeking to be true to yourself and live the life you want, you will have to face a fact:

                  Change will happen.

                  Whether that change is good or bad is unique to each person and their perspective.

                  You might have to start over, once, twice, a few times. It doesn’t mean that everything will be okay, but that you will be okay. What remains or should remain is the true you. When you’ve lost sight of that, you’ve lost sight of everything.

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                  And then, you rebuild. Moment after moment, day after day. We all have a choice, and in this moment, that matters.

                  You can choose to have a positive attitude, seeing the silver lining in each situation and, where there is none, the potential for one. Maybe that silver lining is you and what you will do with the situation. How will you use it for something good?

                  That’s how you can tap into yourself and your power. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes on purpose. It can happen when we aren’t even looking for it, or it can be your only focus. Everyone gets there differently.

                  You can rise, or you can remain. Your choice.

                  When the worst happens, you can rely on your authenticity to pull you through. That’s because Self Advocacy, speaking up to let others know what you need, is part of finding the real you.

                  There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Or sometimes, helping others can help us deal with the pain of a hurtful situation. You decide how you’re going to help others, and suddenly, you become your best self.

                  3. Do What Makes You Happy When No One’s Looking

                  Being the best version of you has nothing to do with your success or your status. It has everything to do with your Character, what you do when no one’s looking.

                  In order to create the life you want, you have to be the person you want to be. Faking it till you make it is just a way to white knuckle it through your journey. You have the fire inside of you to make things right, to put the pieces together, to live authentically. And Character is how you get there.

                  If you fall down and you help another up while you’re down there, it’s like you rise twice.

                  Along with attitude, your character is about the choices you make rather than what happens to you.

                  Yes, it’s about doing the right thing even when obstacles seem insurmountable.  It’s about using that mountain you’ve been given to show others it can be moved.  It’s about being unapologetically you, taking control, choosing your attitude in adversity and being the best version of you to create the life you want.

                  How do you know what you really want? Is it truly status or success?

                  Unfortunately, these things do not always bring happiness. And aspects of our image or “performance driven existence” may not achieve satisfaction. Materialism is part of our refusal to accept ourselves as enough. All the things we use to repress our true selves are about being enough.

                  “Enoughness” is what we truly seek, but ego gets in the way.

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                  Ego is the perception of self as outer worth. It’s not REAL self worth.

                  Ego represses our true self with a new self— the self of chasing ‘“Am I ever enough?”’ questions. And instead of filling our true selves with self-love and acceptance, when we “should ourselves” and chase “enoughness,” we feed the ego or our image.

                  It’s important to realize YOU ARE ENOUGH, without all the material trappings.

                  Stanford psychologist Meagan O’Reilly describes the damage of not thinking we are enough. One of her tactics for combating this is to complete the sentence,[3]

                  “If I believed I were already enough, I’d ____”

                  What would you do if you felt you were enough?

                  By believing you are enough, you can live the life you want.

                  So many fake it to try to get there, and they end up losing themselves when they lose more and more touch with their Authenticity.

                  Final Thoughts

                  By being yourself, you are being brave. By acknowledging all you can be, you tell the universe that you can until you believe it too. The steps are easy, and you are worth it. All of it is about the purpose you are leading and the passion that is your fuel.

                  Being true to yourself is all about mastering how to live life authentically rather than faking or forcing it. Having the life you want (and deserve) is about being trusting in yourself and the purpose you are living for. Both need passion behind it, fueling it each second, or you will experience burn out.

                  When you are authentic, you can call the road you walk your own. When you live your life for you and not just the results of all your actions (faking it till you make it), you can let go of what you don’t need. This clarifies and pushes purpose to you, living for something that is greater than you.

                  You will find that making decisions based on what will actually achieve your goals, will help you attain the life you want, and your success with each step, will allow you to enjoy the process. Good luck!

                  More About Living Your True Self

                  Featured photo credit: Ariana Prestes via unsplash.com

                  Reference

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