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Posts Tagged ‘Empathy’

Empathy & Sympathy Revisited

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

written by Swag

Homeless man, Tokyo.

Image via Wikipedia


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


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.


Honesty, Empathy, and Effective Communication

In Communication on September 20, 2010 at 10:21 am

written by Swag

A relationship provides ample opportunity for annoyances, disturbances, and disappointments. Sometimes, it’s necessary to give voice to these grievances and when doing so it’s also wise to make sure communication channels are open, loved ones are receptive and intended messages are clear. In the everyday world, proper evidence and a sound case may be sufficient to get someone to reconsider their actions but relationships are about much more than mere facts. They can be complicated baskets of emotions, actions, and intentions. 

We have all heard the saying: It’s not what you say, but how you say it, so we understand that communication is a key factor, especially during conflict. No problem in a relationship can or should be summed up in “Here’s what you’ve done wrong, now fix it” because that just translates into “Look how much you suck.”   

Communicating with your partner at anytime is like delivering a parcel of mail. It’s that much harder to deliver that parcel when either person is angry or upset. Even if you put the message in the mail, it doesn’t mean you have the right postage, the right address, or that the other person is even willing to sign for the package.   

Image taken by User:Minesweeper on December 14...

Image via Wikipedia


Incorrect Postage – (Passive Aggressive Communication): When your message does not have adequate postage, it means your delivery is lacking. How you present your message is not effectively getting your point across. Imagine a woman dating a man who is notoriously late for every arrangement they make. When they go out to dinner, he’s late. When they go to the movies, he’s late. When they meet up with friends, he’s late. She wants to tell him that his actions are affecting her in a negative way. They make her feel under-appreciated and devalued, so at the dinner table, she sulks.  At the movies, she complains. When with friends, she bad-mouths him. Unfortunately, her message hasn’t been delivered at all. He is unlikely to connect the tone of her actions to his tardiness and her moodiness will bubble to the forefront, taking attention away from the real issue. She should place more postage on her message and be direct by telling him explicitly what is bothering her.   

Incorrect Address – (Ineffective Communication): Disagreements, the fruit of a successful relationship. I kid, of course, but we all know that disagreements are a very natural occurrence in long-term commitments. How healthy a relationship is, depends on the trajectory of the conflict and how well it is resolved. It’s very easy, in a heated argument, to get side-tracked on superfluous points. Imagine the man who wants his wife to take dancing lessons with him. He approaches her with the idea and she seems uninterested. In an effort to get her interested, he hints at finding a different partner and an argument ensues about whether he has his eyes on other women. He intended to communicate his desire to do something fun and intimate with his wife, but his decision to veer off into unpredictable territory nullifies his message. He sent his package to the wrong address. This leaves him feeling dismissed and leaves her feeling underappreciated.   

No signature. No delivery – (Over Aggressive Communication): Imagine if someone threw something at you unexpectedly. What would your reaction be? Most likely you would shrink your body size by turning sideways and/or ducking, effectively reducing your chances of getting hit. You might also throw your hands up over your face to protect your most vulnerable areas. Instinctively, you would defend yourself the best way you know how. It’s only natural. Now, imagine if your partner hurls an accusatory or demeaning statement at you. You are bound to do the same thing. Defense is the only reasonable reaction. The way we speak to our partners goes along way towards breaking down those very defenses. Being able to present a message without it seeming like an attack actually makes the other person want to receive it. It shows a level of empathy that is necessary if they are to believe you have their best interest at heart and not believe that you are simply out for vindication. Your partner is more likely to sign for their package (your message) and appreciate it for what it’s worth.  

It takes courage to be honest with our partners about how we truly feel. Sometimes we can be so weary of their emotions that our messages and intentions never match up. Empathy is also required so that we can be cognizant of how our partners will react to our messages.  Without an awareness of our partners perceptions, we may inadvertently hurt their feelings and cause them to shut down. If we communicate with honesty and empathy, there are very few obstacles that pose a significant threat to relationship success.


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