We often use the terms “sympathy” and “empathy” interchangeably. While the origin of both words is similar, the manner in which they take shape in our lives is different. An understanding of both words can create depth in our relationships and how we relate to the world around us.
Psychology Today defines empathy as “the experience of understanding another person's thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own.”
Empathy requires that we engage in the emotional and present experience of another person. When we lead with empathy we cultivate a deeper understanding of our shared experiences. Empathy creates an opportunity for us to understand others without making rash judgments and or taking offense.
Empathy is the ability to understand the anger expressed by a mother who’s unarmed son was erroneously shot by an officer. It is the ability to allow mental space for your own ideas while engaging emotionally and cognitively with her experience.
Sympathy is “a feeling or expression of understanding and caring for someone else who is suffering or has problems that have caused unhappiness” Cambridge Dictionary
Sympathy differs from empathy in that it does not require us to fully engage in the experience of another person. Sympathy is the sorrow or the kind words communicated to the mother that lost her son, even when we do not agree or understand her anger.
Sympathy is given. Empathy is experienced. When applied appropriately, both sentiments serve to positively affect the human experience.
How to apply empathy to your relationships:
When arguing with a partner or friend, ask yourself “What hidden in our disagreement? What is the fear, hurt or emotion that is fueling our disagreement?”
Communicate about the emotion using “I” statements. Use this model to best express what you are experiencing: When you _______ I feel _______ . I imagine __________. I need ________. Would you ___________.
When you overtalk me during disagreements I feel frustrated. I imagine that it can be difficult to listen patiently when you are upset and need to be heard. I need a partner that is willing to communicate in a way that we are both heard. Would you please join me in finding a way to communicate better and strengthen our relationship?
Ask yourself, “Is this (my action regarding a person or situation) a loving decision”? Consider if the action is both loving to yourself and compassionate towards the other person or situation.