Empathy vs Sympathy

A couple weeks ago, I came across this video about the difference between empathy and sympathy.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. Especially the part about “at least..” statements. I know I’ve been guilty of trying to create a silver lining for others. I understand why we do it – we want to help makes things better. But more often than not, this language delegitimizes feelings – it brushes them aside or shames people for having natural reactions when life gets hard. And, like Dr. Brown said, it drives disconnection.

I’ve also realized that I do this to myself, too. Instead of letting myself feel however I feel for however long I need to feel it, I tend to rush in to try to make it better with “at least it’s not worse.” But doing this just delays an inevitable emotional breakdown. It would be better if I let myself revel in the suckiness of my situation, so I can connect with my true self and move on authentically.

So, from now on I’m going to choose deep empathy instead of surface-level sympathy. I will value connection over the desire to say the right thing. And I’ll value experiencing my feelings over the desire to get over it quickly.

Here is Brene’s full talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” It’s excellent.


2 thoughts on “Empathy vs Sympathy

  1. I saw this from when you posted it on Twitter, and it has stuck with me too. I think a lot of times people don’t understand that in a powerless situation, the most powerful thing that they can do to help is listen and rally around the person in the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

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