Sympathy versus Empathy.

After a meeting at work today and watching a clip on Empathy, I was left thinking about which matters the most. The clip highlighted that to be able to empathise, one needs to be able to place themselves into a similar position emotionally to the person in question. They need to have the ability to feel the same way. They may not totally understand your problem but will be able to tell you that confidently and offer reassurance and support to you without the need to give you any answers.

Sympathy on the other hand, was described as being condescending and rather judgemental. That is not something I totally agree with. There are times when sympathy is needed. One is not always able to step into someone else’s shoes or completely comprehend their suffering. I know I would have preferred either sympathy or empathy when enduring my father’s abuse. Anything that showed some form of care and concern. Sympathy does not have to be judgemental. Yes, there are elements of pity linked with sympathy and that can be absolutely patronizing and degrading and in those cases, people ought to keep their mouths firmly closed. However, there are times when we do not know what to say. There are times that shock us so badly, that we cannot believe another human being can treat someone in such a horrific way that we are dumbfounded with horror. We cannot find any words to help but we can offer sympathy at most. 

Some of us can offer empathy and relate on a different level.

The clip we watched did not show sympathy in a very complimentary way. Occasionally, I wish people wouldn’t feel they had to say something and leave things very awkward. Sympathy can leave you having to justify your pain. That, I can relate to.

Any ideas?


4 thoughts on “Sympathy versus Empathy.

  1. Congratulations freefromhim on telling your story, to me the first step is accepting and acknowledging what happened and that someone you loved and cared about “did” things to you that were not healthy. Anyone who has been where you are, and there are millions unfortunately, know that emotional and psychological abuse are debilitating. As for your post, my life with someone without empathy has changed my views on both sympathy and empathy and they are slightly different from your own. Empathy is powerful, necessary but to me sympathy is not and this change has helped me stop enabling or devoting emotion to people whom do not deserve my attention. Good luck to you on your continued healing.

    1. Empathy is powerful but not everyone is able to relate to my situation. I understand that. However, having received unwanted responses and often complete avoidance from so-called friends, the ones that make that little effort to “feel” for me was enough to keep me feeling as though life was worth something. That I was worth something. I never wanted pity. Just acceptance – that my abuse was not in my head and my father’s behaviour was abhorrent and true. Thank you for taking the time to read my post. Ros

      1. They cannot offer you what you need, empathy. I hope you find true friends. When I decided to change my life and leave an abusive marriage I gravitated to similar friends. I see now that it takes a lot to break patterns and find empathetic people but it can be done. So many people have been through what you have been through – I was speaking about my ex. I have no sympathy for him as I would never be able to do what he has done to anyone. Empathy for those who have none is what I struggle with now. You are on your way to healing even if at tones it doesn’t feel like it. I hope the writing help.

      2. Thank you, it does. I have no sympathy nor empathy for my father. It’s funny because I used to have both but over time (and years of abuse) it disappeared. Many members of his community sympathised greatly with him. I was the disrespecting, uncontrollable, insolent daughter who had the audacity to question my father’s caring intentions. I think I may have got confused with your last message as I was implying, in my post, that during the worst of times any kind of acknowledgement would have meant something to me. I am travelling down the road of recovery and healing has begun, thank you. I am sorry that you too have experienced abuse and have been treated so badly at the hands of someone you also trusted, Ros x

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