Monday, September 29, 2008

Sympathy and Empathy

I got to wondering about the difference between the two the other day. 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.)

The reason that I got on this tandem of thinking is that Gigi cries anytime she hears anyone else cry. Her brother or sisters cry, she cries. Mom cries, she cries. Another kid in the doctor's office, grocery store, church nursery etc. cries, she cries. And get this, if someone on television cries, she cries!! (It's actually a hoot!) I was wondering what was going on in her little head. If she was sympathizing or panicking or if the right term was empathizing, etc.

Anyhoo, what do you think? Is there a difference?

1 comment:

Chaos-Jamie said...

empathy: you've gone through it so you know how it feels.

Sympathy: You haven't gone through it but you're sorry they have to.

Or so I learned in Psych 101.

I'm guessing Sympathy for Gigi. But it's just a guess.