Empathy vs Sympathy: Difference and Comparison

We, humans, are strongly driven by feelings and experiences. We feel contented and comfortable when surrounded by our friends and family.

We love to be loved, and most of our behaviour traits and perspective towards life are built because of this environment.

We perceive what we want to, but there are many instances when we feel helpless and broken. And in that scenario, two things come into existence in our life “Empathy” and “Sympathy“.

People often confuse both of these words as they are related to the human psychology of relation.


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Key Takeaways

  1. Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings, while sympathy is the feeling of compassion or concern for another person’s well-being.
  2. Empathy involves putting oneself in another person’s shoes and experiencing their emotions, while sympathy involves acknowledging another person’s feelings without necessarily experiencing them.
  3. Empathy is more emotionally intense than sympathy and requires more emotional intelligence.

Empathy vs Sympathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, involves putting oneself in another’s shoes and experiencing their emotions. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone or showing compassion and does not necessarily require understanding the other person’s feelings.

Empathy vs Sympathy

Empathy makes the person feel alongside and connect with another, but Sympathy makes the person feel pity for another as they evaluate what others might be feeling.


Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonEmpathySympathy
DefinitionBeing aware of and understanding the feelings or emotional state of the person is called Empathy. The person empathising might have gone through the same emotional state or is strongly connected with the person.Sympathy starts with judging, where a person understands the feeling of the other person by evaluating their state of mind and condition. In Sympathy, a person feels sorry or pity others.
Starts WithEmpathy starts with a sense of feeling. No evaluation as a person feels connected with another.Sympathy starts with evaluating the condition or situation of another person.
Relate ToPersonalExperience
Action TypeFeelingExpression
Example“I know how difficult it is to lose weight because I also faced problems when I started.”“Losing weight is just like an uphill battle.”


What is Empathy?

Empathy means being aware of, understanding, being emotionally inclined, and sensitive towards another person’s feelings with a sense of experience.

The objective of Empathy is to connect with the person personally.

Empathy gives the ability to a person to imagine or experience people’s emotions. It is divided into two types, i.e. “Affective” and “Cognitive” Empathy. 

Affective empathy means the feelings and sensations one gets as a response from others as an emotion, i.e. a person experiences the same feeling as another person has gone through.

And Cognitive empathy means the ability to understand and identify the emotions of the other where the person has not gone through or experienced the same situation, which is also referred to as perspective-taking.

Empathy is rooted in our mental state and psychology, where we readily associate with others’ feelings.

For example, if Person A has done some activity and founds Person B doing the same, then he/she can easily comprehend the situation and associate its repercussions.

Empathy doesn’t imply helping someone but is a compassionate act showing a person is there for another.

Empathy puts the person in the same place.

Empathy is a vital sense of humans where their psychology drives them.

It is not restricted to any age as well, i.e. a sensitive kid might feel empathy for others. 

Qualities That Define Empathy are:

  1. Feeling or sensing with
  2. Evaluation of the situation doesn’t happen
  3. A person is not judged
  4. The perspective of the person is experienced

The other person’s emotions are felt and experienced, and then communication starts.


What is Sympathy?

Sympathy can be termed as evaluating and judging others’ states and then expressing their feelings.

It means feeling sorry for someone else because of their condition or situation or what has happened to them.

Whenever we hear something wrong happen with the person we know, we say, “I sympathize with you, or My sympathy is with you.” Sympathy is also connected with human psychology, but it expresses the situation.

Sympathy is the ability to recognize suffering, not feeling. Sympathy is always expressed and heartfelt, with or without emotions. 

It involves caring but with the limitation of emotions.

Sympathy can also be referred to as a feeling of loyalty where a person feels united in the action but does not experience it.

Qualities That Define Sympathy are:

  1. Sensing the condition or action
  2. Evaluation of the situation is the first step
  3. A person is judged basis of a situation or condition that can be heartfelt but not experienced.

Main Differences Between Empathy and Sympathy

In times of emotional stress, complicated situations, personal loss, hardships, etc.

We all seek a robust support system around us and find people who care for us.

But still, the kind of care we get has meaning and representation.

Some empathize, whereas some sympathizes, which is difficult to differentiate.

We must know the difference between Empathy and Sympathy not because we want to differentiate the behaviour and characteristics of people but to limit ourselves, i.e. our behaviour and attitude.

  1. Empathy is a strong connection with somebody or someone in pain or trouble. In contrast, Sympathy is based on conditional attributes of the situation, and then the action is taken or feeling sorry for another person.
  2. Empathy creates a feeling of association, whereas Sympathy is an act of understanding.
  3. Evaluation of the situation is not done with Empathy, whereas in Sympathy, evaluation is the first step of the conversation.
  4. People are not judged in Empathy, whereas Sympathy judge people.
  5. Empathy might not involve conversation; only gestures and expressions can express the feeling of the person, whereas, in Sympathy, conversation happens.
Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy
  1. https://www.amhcajournal.org/doi/pdf/10.17744/mehc.32.2.228n116thw397504
  2. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2003-02621-019
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