Love Living, Quit Hating, Everyone Relating

Empathy & Sympathy Revisited

In Emotions, Love, Relationships on February 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

written by Swag

Homeless man, Tokyo.

Image via Wikipedia

Sympathy

Situation: Seeing a homeless person that is asking for money on the street while in the dead of winter.

Reaction: You think to yourself. “Wow, I would hate to be in their situation.” You understand the magnitude of the situation in terms of suffering, but you understand it from your own perspective.

Sympathy is the art of understanding the circumstances of someone else’s pain from your own perspective. You are outside looking in, seeing how the pain came to be and realizing its magnitude for the person suffering through it.

Sympathy involves understanding someone’s situation and then imagining your own thoughts, feelings, and actions during those particular circumstances. You can tell when you are sympathizing because most of your thoughts/statements will start with “If that were me…” or ‘if I were in that situation…”

 

Adult Simba from The Lion King II: Simba's Pride

Image via Wikipedia

Empathy

Situation: Mufasa (Simba’s father in the Lion King) falls off a cliff and perishes.

Reaction: You shed a few tears because you understand the feeling of intense loss.

People mistake sympathy with empathy because they unconsciously parallel the thought of being in someone’s situation with the thought actually being that person while in a particular situation.

If  sympathy is the art of understanding someone’s circumstances, then empathy is the art of understanding someone’s pain. Their emotions and feelings become real as you experience them as your own.

In a relationship, empathy is of much more use than sympathy. When you only sympathize with your partner’s struggles, you end up trying to impose your own will and logic on the situation. It’s a subtle invalidation of their feelings. Sympathy is a relationship killer because it belittles and overlooks the emotions behind the circumstances.

Empathy on the other hand, promotes forgiveness, acceptance and appreciation, all of which help to nourish a relationship. Learn to understand your partners emotions by experiencing them as they have. Appreciating your partner’s heart makes loving him or her that much easier.

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