Empathy vs. Sympathy: How to Use Sympathy vs. Empathy in English

In the intricate tapestry of human emotion, two threads have often been intertwined, yet distinct in their hues: empathy vs. sympathy. When describing what you feel about the other person’s emotions, you might use one of the two words. These words sound very similar, they both come from Greek and therefore, are confused very often. Still, they aren’t synonyms, and they can’t replace one another in a sentence. But what’s the difference?

Empathy vs. Sympathy: What is The Difference?

Key Takeaways

  • SYMPATHY is acknowledging that the other person is going through an emotional or physical struggle, supporting them and giving them comfort.
  • EMPATHY is actually understanding what the other person is feeling because you’ve had a similar experience yourself or you’re able to put yourself in their shoes.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

Sympathy and Empathy: The Definition

What is Empathy?

Empathy is a multifaceted emotional and cognitive experience that involves the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It’s a bridge of connection built on the pillars of awareness, understanding, and sensitivity.

When you empathize with someone, you’re not just recognizing their emotional state; you’re vicariously experiencing it, stepping into their shoes and viewing the world through their lens, if only for a moment.

For instance, when a doctor provides comfort to a sick patient and his family, he is being sympathetic. But when a doctor supports the family of a patient because he himself has a relative who’s suffering from the same illness, what he’s feeling is best described as empathy.

What is Sympathy?

Sympathy is a term that originates from the Greek words “syn” meaning “together” and “pathos” meaning “feeling,” which together denote feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. It’s a form of emotional accord, where one expresses concern or sadness for the hardships that another person encounters.

Unlike empathy, which involves a shared emotional experience, sympathy does not require one to feel the same emotions as the other person. Instead, it is characterized by a compassionate acknowledgment of another’s hardship and a wish to see them relieved from their distress. Sympathy is often conveyed through expressions of care and comfort, such as sending a condolence card or offering words of encouragement during a difficult time.

Tips to Remember the Difference

  • Both sympathy and empathy are heartfelt and honest feelings but empathy is a deeper one.
  • When you express sympathy, you realize that someone is feeling sad or depressed but when you express empathy, you actually feel exactly what the other person is feeling.
  • People who are going through difficult times can receive both empathy and sympathy from people around them. However, these feelings don’t necessarily go together. One other example is a person who has lost a loved one. This person will obviously receive a lot of compassion, support, and sympathy from his friends and family. But only those of his friends who have been in the same situation and lost someone as well will be able to be empathetic.
  • If you’re a science fiction fan, it will probably be easier for you to remember what’s the difference between sympathy and empathy. Maybe in one of your favorite books or movies you’ve read or heard something about empathy: the paranormal ability to read the emotions of a different person. After all, reading someone else’s emotions and putting yourself in their shoes is pretty much the same thing, and it’s empathy, not sympathy, that describes both of them.

Empathy vs. Sympathy: Example in Sentences

Examples of Empathy

  • She showed great empathy to the grieving family, offering comfort and support.
  • The nurse’s empathy towards her patients made her a favorite in the hospital ward.
  • Teaching children about empathy is important for their emotional development.
  • The therapist used empathy to understand her client’s struggles and help them heal.
  • Empathy is a key ingredient in building strong and lasting relationships.
  • The novel was praised for its empathy in portraying the characters’ complex emotions.
  • Without empathy, it can be difficult to see things from another person’s perspective.

Examples of Sympathy

  • After hearing about her loss, I sent her a card to express my sympathy.
  • The outpouring of sympathy from the community was a comfort to the family during their time of sorrow.
  • Although I felt sympathy for his situation, I knew he had to face the consequences of his actions.
  • The charity event aimed to raise both funds and sympathy for the victims of the natural disaster.
  • She couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the abandoned puppies at the shelter.
  • His voice was full of sympathy as he listened to her story.
  • The judge showed no sympathy for the defendant, sentencing him to the maximum punishment allowed.

Empathy or Sympathy: Practice and Exercise

Empathy vs. Sympathy – Fill in the blank

Fill in the blanks with the correct word: Empathy or Sympathy.

  1. When she spoke about her stressful day at work, I could feel her frustration. It was a feeling of _______ because I’ve been in that situation before.
  2. Although I haven’t lost a family member, I offered my _______ to my friend when his grandfather passed away.
  3. It takes a person with a lot of _______ to work at a hospice, as they need to understand the emotional state of those who are ill.
  4. The community showed _______ after the flood by sending cards and donations to the affected families.
  5. When the character in the movie received bad news, I felt _______ because the actor was so convincing that I felt the same sadness.
  6. I couldn’t offer much _______ when he failed the test because I knew he hadn’t studied at all, but I still felt sorry for him.

Answers with Explanations for the Worksheet:

  1. Empathy “Empathy” is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The sentence shows that the speaker has experienced the same frustration and thus can empathize with the person who had a stressful day.
  2. Sympathy “Sympathy” is feeling pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. In this case, the speaker has not experienced the same loss but still wants to express their concern and sorrow for their friend’s loss.
  3. Empathy Working in a hospice requires “Empathy,” as caregivers need to connect with and understand the emotional experiences of those who are terminally ill.
  4. Sympathy The community’s actions show “Sympathy,” as they are responding to the misfortune of others with supportive gestures, such as sending cards and donations.
  5. Empathy The speaker feels “Empathy” when they are so moved by the actor’s performance that they share in the character’s emotions, feeling the sadness as if it were their own.
  6. Sympathy In this case, the speaker expresses “Sympathy,” feeling sorry for the person who failed the test, even though the situation was due to a lack of preparation and not an unfortunate circumstance beyond their control.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can one distinguish between empathy and sympathy in a psychological context?

Psychologically, sympathy is the act of feeling concern for someone, often accompanied by a desire to offer comfort or assistance. Empathy, by contrast, involves a deeper connection where one understands and often shares the feelings of another person, seeing the situation from their perspective.

What are the practical differences between pity, empathy, and sympathy?

Pity is a feeling of discomfort at the distress of one or more sentient beings, and often has a condescending element. Sympathy involves acknowledging another person’s emotional hardships and providing comfort, while empathy is placing oneself in another’s position, emotionally and cognitively understanding their experience.

In what ways do empathy and sympathy affect interpersonal relationships?

Empathy can foster deep interpersonal connections by helping individuals respond to others in a way that acknowledges their emotional state. Sympathy, while also able to strengthen bonds, may not connect at the same deep emotional level but still maintains a sense of care and concern.

Can you provide examples illustrating the distinction between empathy and sympathetic responses?

A sympathetic response might be to express condolences to someone who has lost a loved one, whereas an empathetic response would involve sharing the feelings of grief and understanding the depth of their loss.