Dictionary.com defines sympathy as the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, esp. in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration. It also defines empathy as the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
To me it seemed like splitting hairs and I did what we all do now when we are curious about something - I turned to the internet. I ran a search on Empathy vs. Sympathy and found the views of a psychologist, Lawrence J. Bookbinder, Ph.D. - This is what I found interesting -
"This sharing of the painful feelings of another person is characteristic of both sympathy and empathy. However, the person using sympathy would pay more attention to the pain than to the love for the father whereas the person using empathy would pay equal attention to the pain and love.
If the friend added "I'm sorry for your loss," this statement would also be characteristic of sympathy, but not of empathy. The person using empathy would share the grieving man's emotional pain, but not necessarily feel sorry for or pity him. Of course, one can use both sympathy and empathy, for example: "I feel your pain and also your great love for your father. I'm sorry for your loss."
(This is not an endorsement of this psychiatrist or psychiatry in general. I do not know this man - I just found his observation interesting.)
Anyhoo, what do you think? Is there a difference?