Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: June 03, 2023


Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy

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Emotions are the core of human life. Without emotions and feelings, one cannot live. People tend to form relationships through emotions. There are moments in one's life when they have to face different kinds of emotions. Some struggle to face their emotions while it's quite easy for some to tackle the situation. Emotions vary from person to person. There can be situations in life that can make humans emotional. Two variants are often referred to as on and are even used by many people in place of one another. These are empathy and sympathy. The words are quite common in one's life but they have quite the differences. Differences can be smaller or bigger which makes them distinct from one another.

Empathy vs Sympathy

In sympathy, people can relate to and feel the other person's emotions and suffering. But in sympathy, people only understand others through their point of view. One cannot relate to and understand the victim's point of view while having sympathy. One feels bad for others in sympathy but they cannot do anything about it but in empathy, people find a way to comfort the other person. Sympathy is the emotion of pitying someone while empathy is having compression for others. An individual's thought in sympathy is that it is a blessing that they are not in the same situation as us, however, in empathy, we envision ourselves in their shoes. Sympathy appears to be a phony emotion of concern for others, whereas empathy is an incredibly deep emotion. Empathy fosters connections with others, whereas sympathy undermines them.

While having pity, one does not pay full attention to the problems that another person is going through however, empathy is all about not only comprehending but also relating to the struggles.

Difference between empathy and sympathy in tabular form

Parameters of comparisonEmpathySympathy
MeaningEmpathy is acknowledging one's emotions and pain as your own emotions.Sympathy means understanding one's emotions and comforting them.
DepthEmpathy is a much deeper feeling.Sympathy is not as deep as compared with empathy.
PerspectivePerspective is as you are going through or have faced similar circumstances.Perspective is of a listener who's trying to listen carefully.
UnderstandingOne can understand the person and the situation.One can not understand the emotions of a person facing the situation.
RelationThe listener listens and understands from his understanding of experience as a personal relationship is involved.The listener just tries to understand the emotions of a person. There's no personal relationship to the matter.

What is empathy?

An individual goes through countless emotions such as happiness, sadness, sorrow, etc. Some situations are so upsetting that a person is not able to handle themselves. There comes the support of friends and family who give courage to them. Empathy is a complicated emotion and everyone cannot be empathetic. When we understand the other person's situation as our own, in a way like we are going through that phase then the emotion that develops is called empathy. With empathy, we try to see ourselves in the place of another person.

As a point of reference, Your friend was in a severe car accident and suffered a shattered arm. You would feel the ache of a fracture as if you had suffered one yourself. It's known as putting oneself in another's shoes.

It's not necessary to go through the same pain to understand the other's emotions. It's about having so much compression that you feel that pain and can understand what's going on with them.

Following are some of the traits of empathy that one can have

Good listener

To understand others' sorrow or joy it's the most important thing that you should be an active listener. You don't have to interrupt them while listening. Sometimes it's challenging for a person to open up and talk about the real things. So, if you could do nothing, just be there to listen to them speaking their heart out.

Undivided attention

While listening and talking to others on sensitive matters one has to pay their undivided attention. It's a good gesture to make them feel that they are being heard and their feelings matter to you. People often zone out while listening to others. When you are trying to relate to the person going through a situation it's quite obvious that they need full attention.

Make them laugh

When one is sad or in a bad phase they often go silent. They start bottling up things. So it's a good thing to distract them and make them laugh out loud. It would make them feel better or even they can start talking about things bothering them.

Personal experience

If you can connect to the scenario, you should share your thoughts on how to deal with it. There may have been a period when you were in the same scenario. There can also be the situation that there was a time you were in the same circumstance. The facts should be communicated to them, not avoided. They would benefit from it.

When one composes empathy within them they not only understand other people suffering but also make sure to help them in any way possible. This helps in the formation of strong bonds. It helps in understanding your own emotions when you listen to others. Empathy makes a person kind and makes him care about others' feelings.

To be able to understand other people suffering as your own is good human behavior. But when this emotion takes over your mind of peace it can have a negative impact. Some of the impacts are discussed below:

  • One may lack self-care if they are too consumed in understanding other people's suffering or pain.
  • People who often listen to other people may find it difficult to talk about their problems. Empathy may make them feel that they are putting a burden on others.
  • People may feel lonely and could even stress about the situation the whole time.
  • If someone is good at making others feel comfortable about something, people might take advantage of them.

What is sympathy?

When we carry compassion within ourselves, we try to understand others' viewpoints in our own way; this is known as sympathy. This emotion is rooted in everyone and manifests itself when we see people in terrible situations. We are saddened by other people's difficulties and troubles. But we often feel sorry for them because of their circumstances.  We developed a feeling of concern for a short period. Sympathy helps us to feel kindness and concern for others.

In sympathy, we can only understand someone not imagine or feel what they are going through. For example: during the earthquake in Turkey many people lost their loved ones including lots of collateral damage. We can understand what problems they were facing. We can only estimate and feel bad for them with pity in our eyes. Similar to how it is only normal to feel bad for someone who recently lost someone close to them when someone loses someone they hold dear. In cases of sexual assault as well, a sizable crowd will often assemble to offer the victim sympathy and sorrow.

The feelings are due to the different views regarding the situation. People may feel sorry for their misfortune, but they never try to imagine themselves in their shoes. We each have our own set of perspectives on the situation, and only those are considered. People may feel bad for them but they can never actually think or even imagine what it's like to deal with or suffer at that point. Sometimes people even went on giving free and unnecessary advice just to make sure that other people thought that they care.

Following are some of the characteristics of the sympathy

  • The only perspective that matters is the perspective of your own. We conclude the whole situation based on our views.
  • Not paying attention to what the person going through that phase has to say.
  • We only tend to focus on the behavior that is visible through our naked eyes. We won't go into the depth of the situation. 
  • One very common thing is judging other people.  This is a negative thing when we intend to comfort them.
  • We pity them for the situation they are going through.  Instead of helping people feel poor for victims.
  • Sympathy does not have relationship-building elements. It lacks the formation of a bond between two persons.

These were the characteristics that we talk about. Now we will discuss some of how sympathy can be shown.

Showing up at a funeral

When a person loses a loved one, they are grieved at the time. Absolutely nothing can be done for them. When people attend a funeral, it serves as a method through which they express their sympathies and show how sorry they feel for such an awful happening.

Speaking politely

There is no substitute for speaking courteously and positively. However, some emotions make individuals shout, yell, and raise their voices loudly in the discussion, and one such emotion is fury. A person's voice tone immediately shifts to become humble while speaking when they are feeling empathetic towards someone or something.

Small gestures

Small gestures can lead to a big change. With the help of gestures such as hugging, holding hands, and patting one can comfort the other person. When someone is crying one can pat their back as a way to calm them down. Similarly, holding hands makes one feel a sense of security.


We've all heard that maintaining healthy relationships requires open communication. In addition to relationships, communication is crucial in all other spheres of human existence as well. We exchange opinions and get to know each other when we communicate.  When we communicate we share our thoughts and get to know each other. The first thing someone does when they're going through the worst time in their lives is to stop talking. One can be sure to give others comfort where it is needed by starting a dialogue. It will give the individual the idea that someone cares about them and will make them feel that someone has their back for them.

Difference between empathy and sympathy (in points)

  • Sympathy refers to understanding another person's pain, joy, and sorrow whereas empathy means to feel what the other person might be feeling in terms of joy, sorrow, and pain.
  • Empathy is a deeper concept as empathetic people can understand effectively as compared to sympathy which takes time to understand someone's situation.
  • The priority is not the victim or a person having a bad situation in sympathy whereas the priority is the person having the situation in empathy. The whole concern is on how he or she is gonna deal with the situation all alone.
  • One forms their own beliefs and perspectives on sympathy while in empathy others try to put in the place of the victim. Empathy makes people think from the point of view of the victim.
  • Empathy brings people closer and helps them in enhancing their understanding while sympathy does not form relationships like empathy.
  • Sympathy is the natural behavior that one can have towards a situation but empathy requires more effort than the natural reaction.


The resulting inference is clear from what has been said so far that individuals are a reservoir of an extensive spectrum of natural emotions. What makes an individual human is the kindness and concern that he or she has toward other people and society. A person can access a wide range of goods from society. The least that can be offered in return is to be modest as well as capable of comprehending the issues and circumstances of others.

The suffix that empathy and sympathy share is "pathy" which originated from the Greek word "pathos" which means emotions and feelings. It gives the conclusion that both are emotions. The emotion which makes us think about other people's problems so much that we forget ourselves is empathy while when we feel sorry for them or pity them for their loss is sympathy. One can never imagine the pain of losing someone will only give you sympathy. Everybody has these two emotions with them which comes out when something good or bad happens.


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"Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy." Diffzy.com, 2024. Wed. 21 Feb. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-empathy-and-sympathy>.

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