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Empathy vs Sympathy

 , updated on August 22, 2023
Empathy is the ability to understand and respond appropriately to emotion. This often involves sharing an emotion such that you feel the same way as another person.
Sympathy is caring about the problems, challenges and misfortune of others.

Empathy vs Sympathy

A primary difference between empathy and sympathy is that empathy can apply to positive situations such as feeling happy for someone. Sympathy only applies to negative situations such as misfortune.
Another distinction between these terms is that empathy can extend all the way to feeling exactly the same as another person whereas sympathy simply indicates that you care. You may feel sympathy for someone's loss without actually feeling deeply sad yourself. Sympathy should not be confused with pity as this has a condescending tone that suggests that you feel you are superior to someone with problems.

Empathy Example

People feel empathy when they read a book as they imagine how the characters feel. Likewise, you can feel another person's pain or happiness such as feeling good for a friend who has just been accepted into a prestigious university.

Sympathy Example

Sympathy implies caring about the problems and misfortune of others without actually experiencing negative emotions. For example, expressing your sympathy with kind words to a coworker who has experienced a death in the family.

Notes

Sympathy is a type of empathy.
Empathy vs Sympathy
Empathy
Sympathy
Definition
The ability to understand and respond appropriately to emotion.
Caring about the problems, challenges and misfortune of others.
Depth
Potentially involves feeling the same as another person.
Caring without necessarily feeling the same.
Scope
All emotion
Negative situations such as problems, challenges and loss.
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