As humans we all need to feel connected and accepted by our peers. We want to be understood. Showing care for someone comes in many forms, empathy and sympathy being two of those. Both seem to be useful, the ability to show empathy is the most helpful approach.
Sympathy walks a thin line, it can easily come across as pity to the recipient. In showing sympathy we tend to say phrases such as, “At least you have…” or “It could be worse, I have…” When someone is hurting, they don’t want to be told that their situation isn’t as bad as it seems, they’re seeking understanding.
The most useful, and needed form of showing care is through empathy. Becoming aware of someone’s situation and putting yourself in their shoes allows you to approach their needs better. Don’t lead with judgement of why someone feels this why and instead be present in that moment with them and understand where they’re coming from and offer support. Empathy builds connection through understanding, while sympathy focuses on one’s experience rather than understanding.
Our ways of showing care and acknowledgement of feelings is learned as we grow up. Chances are if your parents had a more sympathetic approach to issues, you will take on that viewpoint. If you were told to suck it up and do better, you will learn to brush off emotions because you ultimately don’t work through them. Empathy takes on the emotion and can be difficult to convey if you haven’t experienced that support before.
Empathy can be learned, but one must be able to accept and empathize with their own emotions first. More often than not, we tend to beat ourselves down for feeling some way when in reality, we’re human. It’s okay to feel the emotions we do. When showing empathy we take on other’s emotions and leave ourselves and our personal emotions out.
It may seem helpful to offer solutions, but it can come off cold and show distance in connectivity. Obviously, it is not our job to take on other people’s emotions to show empathy to them; being present and showing support is the best way to show care.
This week, if you aren’t one to show empathy well, approach others ready to feel what they are feeling, hold no judgement and just listen. Avoid going to others with “I know how you feel,” judgement or offering advice that wasn’t asked for.
Our world needs more empathy and less sympathy. We all want to feel connected and understood by each other without judgement. Become the person you need most when you’re down, and be that for others and may you receive the same in return.