What is the difference between empathy and sympathy?

Professor Brené Brown tells us it is the difference between “feeling for” and “feeling with.” 

Feeling sorry for someone is different than feeling sorry with them.

Brené believes empathy drives connection.  Sympathy ultimately drives disconnection.

Empathy creates a sacred space.  It is a choice, a vulnerable choice, Brené says.  Because we have to connect with something in ourselves that knows that feeling.

When someone shares something difficult with us, one tendency we have is to try to fix it or make it better.  And yet, as Brené tells us, “Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with “At least.”

As in, “I had a miscarriage…” “At least, you can get pregnant.”

Or, “John is getting kicked out of school…” “At least Tara is an A student.”

Instead, when someone tells us, “I’m stuck.  It’s dark.  I’m overwhelmed.”  We can say, “I know what it’s like down here.  And, you are not alone.”

Of, if we don’t know what to do, we can simply state:  “I don’t even know what to say right now I’m just so glad you told me…”

Because rarely can a response make something better.  What makes something better is connection


Reflection:  Think about a difficult time in my life.  Were there people who helped me?  What did they say?  What was their approach with me?

Action:  Practice empathy today.

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