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Empathy vs Sympathy vs Compassion

What are the differences between empathy vs sympathy vs compassion?


In a world where it’s so easy to be hateful and spiteful anonymously behind a computer screen or smartphone, it’s more important than ever for us to be kind and respectful of others.

You never know what kind of battles people are fighting metaphorically, both at home and in their minds, and who knows, maybe just one comment will be all that it takes to tip them over the edge.

On the other side of the coin, however, a kind comment or compliment could be all that it takes to lift somebody out of a slump.

In truth, there really is no excuse to be unkind to anybody, or anything for that matter, which is why such an emphasis is placed upon empathy, sympathy, and compassion.

This world is lacking all three of those things, and we want to change that sooner rather than later.

As far as empathy vs sympathy vs compassion goes, however, it’s easy to get them confused as they do share a number of similarities.

There are, though, a number of differences, and we want to highlight those for you today.

Here’s a look at empathy vs sympathy vs compassion and how they differ.

What is Empathy?

First off, we’re getting the ball rolling today by looking at what empathy is.

If you’re an empathetic person, you find that you feel what others feel.

We aren’t talking in a literal sense or paranormal sense, but rather, a metaphorical sense.

You can relate to others, you can understand exactly how others feel and why they’re feeling that way, and you will share their emotions and feelings.

Empathetic people can share other people’s worries, fears, concerns, and problems and can understand exactly what they’re going through.

Also, very importantly, empathetic people listen to others, hear what they have to say, and never pass judgment.

If somebody experiences a trauma and has a trauma response to it, an empathetic person never passes judgment or criticizes the person.

They understand that it was a trauma response and a knee-jerk reaction and understand why they acted in that way, even if they don’t morally agree with it.

Empathetic people are fantastic at “reading the room,” as it were, and can easily read people’s feelings and emotions, even through non-verbal means, i.e., by reading their body language or assessing their behavior.

Empathetic individuals are also able to listen to people’s problems without feeling the name to provide unsolicited advice and opinions.

People assume that empathy only comes into play when you’re listening to the problems, concerns, fears, worries, or traumas of others when, in reality, empathy can be used as part of everyday life as well.

Empathy allows you to become a better communicator and can also be used in business settings as it allows you to understand the perspectives of others and understand what they’re saying and why they’re saying it.

Basically, empathy puts you in the metaphorical shoes of others and helps you to understand what they’re feeling, why they’re feeling it, and how they’re acting.

How to Be More Empathetic

Although some people are naturally more empathetic than others, it’s never too late to work on being a more empathetic person.

Even if you consider yourself to not be empathetic in the slightest, the good news is that empathy is considered to be both a trait and a skill that you can build upon.

If your empathy skills are lacking, or if you’re simply trying to see things from the perspectives of others, here are several ways to be more empathetic.

Become more mindful

One of the most effective ways of becoming more empathetic is to become more mindful.

Mindfulness helps you to become super aware of your environment, as well as yourself.

When you are mindful, you can filter your comments and behaviors to ensure that they won’t negatively impact others.

Not only that but if you are aware of your own emotions and why things make you feel the way that you feel, you can then adjust your behavior accordingly.

Mindfulness can be achieved in a number of different ways, although yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are perfect examples of things that help you become mindful quicker.

Resist the urge to pass judgment

One of the best character traits of an empathetic person is the fact that they don’t pass judgment.

If a person is struggling and has acted in a way that has perhaps made things worse, resist the urge to pass judgment.

Don’t ask them why they did something or criticize them for acting in a certain way, as that will only make them feel worse.

One of the most effective ways of becoming more empathetic is to ensure that you don’t judge others.

Put yourself into other people’s shoes

Another way to build empathy is to put yourself in the metaphoric shoes of others. What do we mean by this? Basically, we mean that you should try to understand how they feel.

If somebody is going through a hard time, perhaps because of a breakup, try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you’d feel if you were going through the same problems as them.

This will help you understand why they’re experiencing these same emotions, and will help you to understand why they are acting and behaving in a certain way.

Really listen to others

If you’re looking to become more empathetic, another very useful tip is to listen to others, and by listening, we mean you should really listen.

Don’t just nod your head and aimlessly agree with them if you aren’t really listening. Instead, take in what they’re saying, ask relevant questions, and let them know that you have understood exactly what they’ve said.

What is Sympathy?

As we’re looking at empathy vs sympathy vs compassion, it’s only right that we now turn our attention to sympathy.

If you want to understand the differences between all three, knowing exactly what sympathy is will certainly help you understand much quicker.

The main difference between empathy and sympathy, despite them often being confused with one another, is the fact that sympathy doesn’t require individuals to experience other people’s feelings and emotions on a spiritual and emotional level.

Sympathy means that you feel bad for individuals experiencing hardships, but you don’t necessarily have to understand what they’re feeling or why they’re feeling it.

You know that they’re feeling bad, and you, therefore, feel bad for them, but you don’t feel what they’re feeling.

Sympathetic people generally understand things from their perspectives, whereas empathetic people understand things from the perspectives of others.

Those who are sympathetic are more likely to pass judgment and perhaps offer unsolicited advice, even if it isn’t required.

Some may consider “tough love” to be a form of sympathy, and while this is true on the surface, on a deeper level, it can escalate matters and make things worse.

While passing judgment may be considered a negative activity in this day and age, the truth of the matter is that sometimes it is needed and is something that can be done with no malice intended.

People can judge others and still be sympathetic. Sometimes, being judged is precisely what others need, as this may help them to learn and grow.

Ways to be more sympathetic

Just as we looked at ways for people to be more empathetic, we’re now going to take the time to look at ways for people to be more sympathetic towards others.

Sympathy is very important as it helps show others you care, it helps give others an outlet and somebody to vent to, and it helps you to comfort others when they are experiencing problems.

Here are a few quick and easy tips to help you become more sympathetic.

Listen to others

One simple way of being more sympathetic is to listen to the problems of others.

Let them speak about their emotions and problems and why and how they’re feeling.

When you listen to the emotions of other people and their problems, you can’t help but become more sympathetic towards them and their predicament.

Offer your thoughts later

Once you’ve listened to the problems of others, another way of being more sympathetic is to reserve comments until later.

Let the person finish telling you what they’re telling you, and once you’ve listened to and understood their comments, then you can offer comments and your thoughts.

It’s important that you wait and don’t speak over them, as they may need to vent and get things off their chest, as it were.

Some experts call this ‘no-solution listening’ as you listen to their problems, even if there is no solution. Ironically, your listening could potentially become the solution.

Offer appropriate levels of physical contact

Being sympathetic is about much more than listening to others; it’s also about offering a physical and metaphorical shoulder to cry upon.

Even if you’re not the best at offering words of encouragement or sympathy, you can express sympathy in other ways, including physically.

A hug, pat on the back, or even a fist bump could be all that’s needed to help people feel better.

What is Compassion?

Finally, we’re going to look at what compassion is.

We’ve looked at what empathy and sympathy are, so it’s only right that we also take a look at what compassion is as well.

Compassion is perhaps best described as a hybrid of both sympathy and empathy.

The act of compassion is to listen to people’s problems and understand them from an empathetic point of view, alongside a desire to act upon behalf of the other person.

With compassion, not only do you relate to a person and understand their problems and emotions from an empathetic perspective, but you also wish to help them and do things for them.

Empathy, for example, could be seeing somebody injured and emotionally experiencing their pain. With compassion, you’d experience and feel their pain while also treating their injuries.

The above is an extreme example, yet compassion can be incorporated into everyday life in a number of other ways. Seeing somebody struggling with a heavy box and helping them lift it, for example, is an act of compassion.

Some would argue that compassion is basically just a fancy word for kindness, but there are key differences.

Compassion is about helping others and making life easier. Kindness is about being nice for the sake of being nice.

Ways to be more compassionate:

If you’re looking to make a difference and help others, here are several tips to help you become more compassionate.

Accept people for their flaws

Compassion is not only about helping people, it’s understanding them as well.

If a person is flawed and their behavior is negatively impacting their own life, compassion is about accepting these flaws rather than passing judgment and criticizing.

It’s also about helping them to eradicate these behavioral patterns so that their life improves.

Forgive people

Sticking with the above theme, compassion is also about forgiveness.

We all make mistakes, and we’re only human.

Compassionate people, however, are able to forgive people for their mistakes rather than holding their mistakes over them and passing judgment.

Empathy vs sympathy vs compassion – What are the differences?

Okay, so, in the moment of truth, what are the key differences when it comes to empathy vs sympathy vs compassion? Well, empathy is more about understanding things from other people’s perspectives and feeling what they’re feeling.

Sympathy is about understanding that people are feeling bad and feeling bad for them despite not fully understanding how they feel or why they’re feeling that way.

Compassion, on the other hand, is about being empathetic and also going the extra mile to help people feel better and improve their lives. Altruism really factors into the mix here.

Regardless of the differences, all three of the above can be hugely beneficial when it comes to gaining insight into the struggles that so many people face as a part of their everyday lives and helping them overcome these challenges in the future.


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