January 6, 2010 at 5:00 am 2 comments

It is exceedingly difficult for me to be in a position of needing help. I’ve spent most of my life striving to at least look like I’ve got it all together. In fact, sympathy makes me feel so bad that if I have to share hardship with someone, I end up reassuring the listener adamantly, almost negating any feelings I actually do have so that they will stop feeling sorry for me. That has been my M.O, if uncomfortable I just act comfortable, that way no one consoles me.

So as I tell you about this time period in our lives of great love, emotions, and household upheaval, it has been tricky for me. I fear that if I write about it too clearly I will persuade you to feel sorry for me, which just wouldn’t feel right. My life is not only filled with chaotic moving boxes, it is also filled with children that are stupendous, a man that thinks I rock, a family that is loving and interesting, and friends that bend over backwards. But even if my life totally sucked, I would fear reading your comments. I just feel that uncomfortable with sympathy.

But I can’t really write a blog about feelings and then hide from other people’s feelings about my feelings can I! And, in the end, there is nothing to fear. Your comments are all just right. Loving and encouraging. And even if I get sympathy instead of empathy, I can just have empathy for myself for all the feelings I have in response to the response! It always boils down to that anyway.

But as a girl that hates sympathy, I sure am glad I stumbled upon empathy. Empathy, not sympathy. Holy cow, what a difference.

  • empathy is the capability to share another being’s feelings.
  • sympathy is the feeling of compassion, concern and/or pity for another, the wish to see them better off or happier.

A real life scenario would be … oh let’s say… you have zero money to your name and the bills are mounting. You are highly distressed about this.

An empathic response from a friend would be: Oh wow. How is that for you?… It sounds like you are really distraught. That’s so scary. Not knowing where the money is going to come from is just terrifying.

A sympathetic response would be: Oh that’s just awful! I’m so sorry. I just wish for something better for you.

The difference is subtle. But empathy allows feelings to just be as they are, whereas sympathy indicates that one state of feeling is perhaps better than the other and thus there is a gentle nudging to move somewhere other than where you are.

More simply put, a sympathy card would say: Feel better soon!

An empathy card would say: You’re really sick and you don’t like it.

You don’t see many cards like that on the Hallmark shelves but I sure would buy one.


Entry filed under: empathy, Uncategorized. Tags: , .

still breathing sadness makes a lousy souvenir

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ivy  |  January 6, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Yes. I’ve never much cared for the idea of someone feeling sorry for me either. Pity is a dirty word almost isn’t it. But there is nothing in the world like feeling understood. Completely, unconditionally understood.

  • 2. krista  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:23 am

    I really love this topic of sympathy vs. empathy. I’ve written a post as an attempt to express my understanding of the two. This is such a valuable subject to me so thanks for bringing it up!


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