Sympathy, empathy and compassion. – three processes that are the same but also very different as far as I’m concerned.  They are certainly closely connected, but difficult to separate out sometimes.

Sympathy is what we all engage in with friends, family & neighbours in everyday conversation.  When someone relates an event or experience and shares emotions, it’s likely that most of us will respond by not only acknowledging that but also sharing some similar experience or feeling of our own.

Somehow we are trying to say that we know how the other person feels (we don’t) because we have had a similar experience.  Or perhaps it’s simply trying to acknowledge what the other person is expressing by relating that we’ve had that similar experience

But then it moves the focus from the other person and their own individual experience to us.

Empathy is when we are congruent and connect with the individual emotions someone is expressing without bringing our own experience into it, but simply staying with the feelings of another.

That can be difficult at times if we have not had that same or similar experience.  But empathy is about connecting with the emotion that is being expressed whatever the event or situation.

By asking ourselves what is the deeper inner emotion or need that is being expressed here, and experiencing that with the other person, that means hopefully, we are where the other person is with their feelings.

Compassion somehow goes a step further than sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy will allow us to connect with another’s feelings and emotions through our own and often shared experience.  Empathy enables us to feel what the other person feels in their individual experience.  Compassion, on the other hand, results in also taking specific action.

A therapist, for example, may become aware that there is a significant group of people with whom they work who cannot afford therapy fees, and compassion may move them to decide to offer some reduced fees.

An individual may demonstrate compassion when moved by someone’s plight and as a result decide to volunteer or offer services to a charity working with those needs.  Or donate to a specific project etc.

Or we may actually meet the needs of the other in some specific way ourselves right there and then.

I think what is most important whatever we are expressing and sharing is ensuring we connect in the most appropriate way for the time and situation with whoever we are with.

Not always easy though!