Creating

Empathy vs. Sympathy: Do You Really Know the Difference?

Empathy vs. Sympathy: Do You Really Know the Difference?
Written by Cassie LaJeunesse

So many aspects of our daily lives are governed by feelings and emotions. They pop up in a myriad of situations, both personal and professional. As content creators, we have to have an understanding of emotional intelligence in order to interact with clients and audiences.

This means that we also need to have an understanding of how to write about emotions. We can easily use the basic emotional adjectives like happy, sad, and angry, but concepts like empathy and sympathy tend to trip people up.

Empathy vs. sympathy: understanding the difference

While these terms are similar, there are some important distinctions between their definitions that you should be aware of the next time you’re writing or talking about these particular feelings.

Empathy vs. sympathy: understanding the difference

Empathy

Empathy is generally thought of as a stronger feeling than sympathy. When you empathize with someone, you are sharing in their emotions. This is often because you have experienced the same emotions yourself, or because you can relate on a deeper level.

For example, if your best friend tells you that they just broke up with their partner, and you have gone through a breakup in the past, you can empathize with your friend. You know what they are going through because you have been there. Empathy is all about understanding someone’s feelings and feeling them along with the other person.

Empathy vs. sympathy: understanding the difference

Sympathy

Sympathy, on the other hand, refers to understanding someone’s feelings. When you sympathize with someone, you are acknowledging their feelings but not necessarily feeling them yourself. Sympathy is generally used in the context of sorrow or grief.

For example, imagine that your friend has lost a pet. If you have never had a pet or experienced this kind of loss, you may not be able to empathize with your friend. You don’t know what they’re going through. However, you can still acknowledge that the situation is sad and they are in pain. That is sympathy.

Another important distinction between these concepts is how they make the recipient feel. Because of the level of connection it requires, empathy can lead to a greater sense of understanding between two people. Sympathy, especially if it is not perceived as sincere, can cause alienation if the recipient does not feel supported.

The easiest way I’ve found to make the distinction is that sympathy is feeling FOR someone, while empathy is feeling WITH someone.

Empathy vs. sympathy: understanding the difference

Still Confused?

Let’s look at a few example sentences to see how we might use these in writing.

I’ve never been in a relationship, but I certainly have sympathy for my friend who just broke up with his partner.

If I’ve never even been in a relationship, I’ve never been dumped, so I don’t really know what my friend is going through. However, I can acknowledge his sadness and sympathize.

After her father died, she had empathy for the main character of her favorite novel, who had also lost a parent at a young age.

Grieving a loved one can cause some serious confusion between empathy and sympathy. Someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one will empathize, understanding the immense pain and the grieving process, while someone who has not experienced loss might sympathize but not truly understand.

        They showed their sympathy by offering thoughts and prayers.

This is a potential example of insincere sympathy. Offering thoughts and prayers is generally well-intentioned, but it is often a superficial response to tragedy because those offering sympathy don’t understand what victims have gone through.

Sympathy is feeling FOR someone. Empathy is feeling WITH someone. Learn more about the important distinction between these two concepts. #writing #grammar #contentmarketing Click To Tweet

About the author

Cassie LaJeunesse

Cassie LaJeunesse is doing everything in her power to prove wrong the people who scoffed at her English degree. A former college newspaper editor, she now writes and edits content for a regional magazine. She also finds time to freelance for her alma mater and other publications, writing and editing in a variety of styles and subjects. Now that she has completed her degree, she uses her free time to read as much as possible, sing in a choir, and hang out with her cat, Gilbert.

[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]