When someone shares a problem it can be difficult to know what to say. Often a person wants someone to be empathetic and they get someone who is sympathetic.
I found an article that shows the difference between the two. It is on medium.com and the article is: “Want to be More Empathetic? Avoid These 7 Responses”. The author starts out with basic definitions:
“Empathy = feeling WITH someone. The actual definition says, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
“Sympathy = feeling sorry FOR someone. The definition says, ‘Feelings of pity and sorry for someone’s misfortune.”
Sharing the feelings of someone is rather daunting. The following by the same author says that we are “trying to understand”. No one can truly understand how one feels. In fact, “I understand” is not an empathetic response. There is a difference as you can see between showing empathy and showing sympathy. “…offering sympathy is easier. It’s easy to pity someone else’s struggles. Being empathetic is trying to understand someone else’s pain.”
It is not being a “Positive Picker Upper” – one of the 7 response types. “They want you to look at the bright side.” Most of us can relate to someone being like this. One example is someone saying something positive about your cancer diagnosis: “Well, at least it’s easily treatable”. There might be a time for saying something like that, but not when the person is looking for empathy.
Here are some ideas from the same article:
- “Listen. When someone opens up to you and shares what is going on in her life, the absolute best thing you can do is listen.”
- “Connect with their feelings.”
- “Acknowledge their pain.” The author suggested thinking about how you might feel under those or similar circumstances.
- “Show them love.” A few suggestions were to sit with them, do something with them, do something to help them out.
I hope that gave you some insight into what empathy is. Refer to that article for more of the types of responses one shouldn’t give.
Prayer – Pray for someone you know. Pray for guidance in showing empathy.