Random Thoughts

Sympathy and empathy

... can you tell the difference?

by Ed Boyd

                                    

Both sympathy and empathy have at their core deep feelings of connection
with others. Sometimes these words seem to be used interchangeably. Are
these important words the same or different is a question I am posing for
myself.

From The American Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd Edition, C. 1992
says that sympathy is given as the act or power of sharing feelings with
another. If you have a brother or sister or a close friend, at the loss of a
father or mother, you might find yourself sobbing at that loss. In doing so,
you make a deep connection with another. This connection might be
appreciated as shared feelings. If, in a death of my brother, it is very nice to
have someone sob with me.

Empathy is given as identification with understanding of anotherís situation,
feelings and motives. At first glance, empathy and sympathy do not seem to
distinguish one from the other. A deeper look, though, suggests profound
differences.

Empathy, or empathic grasp of another, goes beyond simply sharing feelings
with another. Empathy means the capacity of an observer to simultaneously
observe oneself in connection with the other. It is this self-understanding
that promotes the ability to understanding of anotherís situation, feelings,
and motives. This is one of the main features of what makes a good
psychotherapist. He must be able to observe a person and his sobbing, feel
the otherís sobbing without becoming swallowed by it. This is what it is
meant by taking a necessary distance, a birdís eye view, if you will.

I am satisfied with my description of sympathy and empathy and hope my
readerís will be, too.

Happy holidays!


December 5, 2014


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