Empathy vs Sympathy (Series)

Sympathy vs. Empathy (and how knowing the difference could save your relationships) Part Four

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Last week we began examining the seven steps to fostering more empathy, including learning to better identify our own feelings and treating others as they would like to be treated. This week we conclude the series by looking at the last three steps to increasing our empathy, including being more curious and challenging prejudices and finding common ground.

 

Cultivate curiosity

 

When we were little children we were all naturally curious but later in life this curiosity tends to fade. Remember that little child in you and do your best to remain curious and open. Ask people questions and learn about their thoughts, opinions, beliefs and feelings. Seek to understand viewpoints different to your own.

 

Active listening and being open

 

Active listening is when we really focus on listening to others. It involves reading body language, mirroring body language and repeating what the other has said so they feel heard and understood – this approach also gives others the opportunity to correct you if they meant something different to what you thought.

 

Be open and share your own story with others. Let yourself be vulnerable. It will make the person you’re speaking to feel safe in sharing with you in turn.

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Sympathy vs. Empathy (and how knowing the difference could save your relationships) Part Three

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Last week we looked at the many life-enhancing benefits of empathy and learnt the ‘enemies of empathy’ and how to overcome them. This week we begin examining the seven steps to fostering more empathy, including learning to better identify our own feelings and treating others as they would like to be treated.

 

The seven steps to foster more empathy

 

Learn to better identify your own feelings

 

One of the key elements in becoming more empathic with others is to be able to read their emotions. This is virtually impossible without first learning to effectively identify our own emotions. The good news is that with just a little practice we can all become better at reading our own emotions.

 

All you need do is begin to notice when you are feeling an emotion and your awareness of your emotions will increase. The next step is to understand your emotions. You can do this by first thinking about what triggered your emotions (like an event) and then asking yourself why you are feeling the emotions that you are.

 

For example, if I notice that I am feeling anxious the trigger might be that I am meeting new people and the reason why might be that I don’t yet know whether our meeting will go well. Of course you can always delve deeper, for instance the core reason why I am anxious as to whether the meeting will go well or not is probably exasperated by the fact that when I met new people at school it didn’t go well.

 

Read literature

 

Reading literature is incredibly effective at allowing us to better understand others different perspectives and emotions. So read as much as you can and as wide a range of literature as possible to fast-track developing greater levels of empathy.

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Sympathy vs. Empathy (and how knowing the difference could save your relationships) Part Two

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Last week we explored the differences between sympathy and empathy and the different types of empathy. This week we examine the many life-enhancing benefits of empathy and look at the ‘enemies of empathy’ and how to overcome them.

 

The benefits of empathy

 

Strengthen bonds and relationships

 

When others sense we share their emotions and relate to them we instantly create a deep rooted bond. Naturally our relationships become stronger and closer as a result, meaning we can both give and receive support during life’s toughest times.

 

Fosters good emotional health and well-being

 

When we are empathic we experience feelings of connection, kindness, inclusion and community – all instrumental in promoting good emotional health and well-being.

 

Heals painful psychological problems

 

We can help to heal others loneliness, alienation, anxiety, fear, depression and shame all from emotional and compassionate empathizing.

 

Can be a source of self-esteem and gives us a sense of identity

 

Healthy self-esteem should only be related to our characters because – unlike other things such as success or money – we have complete control over how we choose to behave. When we are empathic and connect with others emotionally, we automatically feel good about ourselves and it can be a huge source of healthy self-esteem.

 

Furthermore, if we are empathic over a prolonged period of time, we can identify ourselves as being empathic by nature, enabling us to have a more positive identity.

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Sympathy vs. Empathy (and how knowing the difference could save your relationships) Part One

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Sympathy and empathy, aren’t they the same thing?

 

I recently saw a video by Brene Brown about the difference between the two. It had such a profound effect on me that I began wondering about all the times when I had offered sympathy as opposed to empathy – a mistake I’m sure we’ve all made.

 

I would often sympathize with friends who were going through romantic struggles, knowing that it must be awful for them and wanting to help but never really ‘feeling’ the emotions they were experiencing. This left me understanding their position intellectually though unable to relate on an emotional level.

 

So I vowed to shun sympathy in favor of empathy, knowing that having previously seen sympathy and empathy as the same, I had caused my relationships to suffer rather than thrive.

 

Throughout this series I will outline the critical difference between sympathy and empathy and examine the ways we can develop our empathy so that it nurtures and strengthens our relationships, fostering even greater levels of compassion towards others.

 

The nature of sympathy

 

In Dictionary.com’s article titled ‘Sympathy vs. Empathy’ it captures today’s meaning of sympathy perfectly and reports that:

 

‘Nowadays sympathy is largely used to convey commiseration, pity, or feelings of sorrow for someone who is experiencing misfortune.’

 

As you can see, the very nature of sympathy is distant. It speaks of us being observers to others sorrow and feeling bad about their pain. For someone on the receiving end of sympathy, it can make them feel even more isolated, and, if those suffering are prideful, they might even feel offended by such sentiments.

 

The nature of empathy

 

In Dictionary.com’s same article it mentions today’s meaning of empathy and reports that:

 

‘[empathy] is now most often used to refer to the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, thereby vicariously experiencing the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person.’

 

Empathy by contrast is personal. It gets in amongst the others pain and feels it right alongside them. Rather than isolating the person suffering, it comforts them, showing them that they are fully understood and reminding them that they are not alone.

 

The different types of empathy

 

Perspective Taking

 

This is predicting the thoughts of another by imagining ourselves in their position.

 

Cognitive Empathy

 

This is not feeling the others emotion but understanding that you need to communicate emphatically. It is especially helpful to engage with cognitive empathy and vocalize this to your enemies or those placing unrealistic demands on you as it is very powerful in resolving conflict.

 

Emotional Empathy

 

This is when we feel what the other person is feeling.

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