Often used interchangeably, the words empathy and sympathy are quite similar. They both involve emotion and we use the words to convey to another person that in some form we understand what they are going through.
As defined in the Webster’s dictionary:
Empathy: the power to enter into the feeling or spirit of others
Sympathy: a sharing in the emotions of others; especially the sharing of grief and pain
When we sympathize with someone, we have some degree of understanding, as we have most likely experienced the emotion ourselves, or we can take a pretty good guess as it how it would feel. Eliciting our own feelings, sympathy allows us to have the ability to share their sorrow or pain to some extent. But empathy is a bit different; a more nuanced, ennobled process that allows the listener to intuitively “feel themselves” in another person’s experience, all the while, inherently understanding that empathy requires an opening of our heart and a stillness to our mind.
To hold another person’s vulnerability, with no other intent, is the gift of empathy.
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