Be Empathetic Not Sympathetic Put yourself in other’s shoes, but don’t walk their path for them
Isn’t Sympathy a Good Thing?
“Oh you poor thing. What happened to you is just terrible! You must feel awful. I wish there was something I could do.”
Do these words sound familiar? Maybe you’ve used them on a friend or relative who suffered a back break, or perhaps you’ve heard them yourself from a well-meaning friend at a time when something went wrong for you.
Words like these are usually expressed by well-meaning people in form of “sympathy” to someone they care about. But imagine yourself hearing these words right now. How do they make you feel? Loved, cared for, empowered? Or helpless, victimized, and just plain bad?
Though sympathy is a socially acceptible gesture, I suggest that you stop using it and accepting it from others. It doesn’t help you or them. Empathy is a far superior form of expression. Let me explain.
Sympathy or Empathy?
So what’s difference between sympathy and empathy? Sympathy, while highly valued in our culture, can actually be very disempowering. The sympathetic perspective tends to place you above other, placing you in a position that might sound something like, “Oh you poor thing, this is just terrible what’s happening to you.” This behavior on your part will actually enable limited worldview of a person operating from a victim state of mind, and is less likely to help them move to a healthy resolution of their problem.
On other hand, coming from an empathetic perspective, you understand what other is feeling but don’t necessarily “go there” with them. Instead, you view them as capable of working through issue at hand. If you were being empathetic to someone in pain, you might say something like, “I sense that you’re hurting right now. Is there anything you need or any support I can offer to help you through this?”