Sympathy, Empathy, and Compassion
All human beings go through periods of challenges such as grief and stress and require the support of those around them to navigate such tough times. When we are around people that we know are struggling, we tend to be empathetic, sympathetic, and or compassionate. Although these three times are used interchangeably, they have different meanings. Empathy, sympathy, and compassion are natural emotions elicited by the suffering and grief of those around us. The level of emotions that people show depends on various factors such as previous experiences, relationships, and emotional intelligence. To understand these differences, it is crucial to understand the meaning of each of these words and how they are applied. This paper focuses on the definition of the terms from various perspectives and how to apply them in different situations.
Tchiki Davis gives a comprehensive definition of empathy, sympathy, and compassion in an article published in Psychology Today. She defines empathy as the feeling that one can deeply understand another’s pain due to shared experience. On the other hand, sympathy refers to feelings of pity or sadness for others going through a tough time (Davis 1). Sympathy does not involve any shared experience. Compassion has a much broader definition as it is more of an attitude that a person possesses or cultivates. Compassion involves caring for others who may be far from us; for example, donating to a charitable cause in a different country shows compassion. Nurses and other healthcare workers practice compassion in caring for the sick, both physically and emotionally.
Sickness is a natural and painful part of life, and the concepts of empathy, sympathy, and compassion are especially useful from this perspective. Sinclair et al. conducted a study to examine the attitudes of cancer patients in palliative care regarding empathy, sympathy, and compassion. Cancer is a serious illness that takes a significant toll on a patient’s life. They go through difficult treatments that wear down their bodies and their spirit and need a lot of care through all this. The patients involved in the study gave their understanding of these concepts and which they felt were most useful to them. The patients described sympathy as a response of pity to a difficult situation, intended for the benefit of the observer rather than the patient. The participants reported that sympathy was largely unwanted. Empathy was reported as a more positive response characterized by the desire to understand the patient’s suffering through an emotional connection (Sinclair et al. 438). Compassion was quite similar to empathy, with additional qualities such as altruism, love, and acts of kindness.
Although people tend to think of empathy, sympathy, and compassion in terms of pain and suffering, these concepts apply in an array of situations. Forbes magazine published an article that focuses on the application of these ideas in business. The article explains that sympathy is about acknowledging the feelings of others, although it involves a level of detachment from the situation (Kramer 1). Empathy, on the other hand, involves taking on the feelings of others, resulting in an intense emotional reaction. Empathy is about walking in another person’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective. Both of these qualities can be cultivated deliberately, for example, by choosing to see things from different perspectives that may be different from one’s own. The article explains that these emotions are helpful for businesses to understand the needs and wants of their customers.
My understanding of empathy, sympathy, and compassion reflects the authors of the articles described above. I find empathy to be the most effective and supportive emotion for those going through adverse situations. For example, when a person gets diagnosed with cancer, one may offer support through either of the three concepts. A person who has previously been diagnosed with a life-threatening condition would be empathetic as they have gone through the same situation. They can understand the emotions of the patient. Any other person can offer sympathy as it is natural to feel pity for the patient, knowing the rough road ahead after their diagnosis. Compassion, in this case, takes many forms. The cancer patient will need the care of doctors, nurses, other professionals, and volunteers, all of whom show compassion. They may not be directly involved with the patient, but they show their care in different ways.
Understanding sympathy, empathy, and compassion is essential in everyday life. Armed with a deep understanding of these concepts, we can choose the best way to offer support to those going through tough times. Some people will feel better when they know someone has gone through the same situation, while others appreciate expressions of sympathy from those who may not profoundly understand their situation. These concepts allow people to support each other during trying times and offer support and comfort to those suffering in different ways.
In summary, it is natural to feel the desire to comfort people going through a hard time, but one must find the best way to do this. Showing empathy, sympathy, and compassion are some of the best ways to show support, depending on the situation. With a clear understanding of the three, we can judge which best applies to a specific situation. All of these offer great support and comfort to those who need it when properly executed.
Davis, Tchiki. “Sympathy vs. Empathy.” Psychology Today. 14 July 2020. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/202007/sympathy-vs-empathyKramer, Bryan. “The Critical Difference Between Sympathy And Empathy.” Forbes. 13 August 2018. www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/08/13/the-critical-difference-between-sympathy-and-empathy/?sh=33464c2c16a3Sinclair, Shane, et al. “Sympathy, empathy, and compassion: A grounded theory study of palliative care patients’ understandings, experiences, and preferences.” Palliative medicine 31.5 (2017): 437-447.