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Empathy and the dangers of Sympathy

What is the best way to ease someone's pain and suffering?

Empathy is feeling with People. It is a deep connection. It is something that most wish to be and yet none rarely practice. It sees life with a different lens. It is walking in someone else's shoes for a while.  Yet, it is often confused with Sympathy. 

Empathy fuels connection
Sympathy drives disconnection

There are 4 Qualities of Empathy 

1. Perspective Taking - taking the perspective of someone else
2. Staying out of Judgement - which is hard, because we secretly like this
3. Recognizing the appropriate emotions - discerning what and how someone feels
4. Communication - verbal and non-verbal 

Think of it like this:
When someone is down, sad, and having a hard time. They are in many ways in a deep hole or cave. In the dark they yell: 

"I'm Stuck." 
"I'm Overwhelmed." 

Empathy is going down into the cave with that person and say, 

"Hey, I'm with you."
"I know what it is like down here."
"You are not alone."

In contrast, Sympathy is:

"Wow. That sucks. I'm sorry for you."

You look down into the hole or cave, but don't go down. 

Empathy is a choice because for me to connect with you I have to look within myself and find a part of me that knows that feeling. Then I have to choose to go there. Sympathy says two very evil words, "AT LEAST."

- I didn't make the team. AT LEAST you got to try out.
- We had a miscarriage. AT LEAST you know you can get pregnant. 
- My Husband and I are getting a divorce. AT LEAST you know what it is like to be married. 
- I just got laid off. AT LEAST you had a job. 

All of us are guilty of this. Someone just shared something incredibly personal, and we hate to see them that way, so we try to fix it. We try to make it better. We put a silver lining on the situation. But, it's ok to hurt. It's ok for things not be ok.  Empathy validates feelings and allows the grieving process to happen. Empathy is accountability and companionship in an all consuming lonely moment.

Rather, then trying to fix the issue Empathy would have us say; "I don't know what to say right now, but I am glad you told me. I'm here with you."

Rarely does a response make something better.

It's the connection that makes it better. 

Practice Empathy: 

- Look at them, work on non-verbal communication
- Give them a hug or an arm around them. Sit with them. 
- Be patient
- Let them cry
- Don't interrupt
- Let them vent and talk. You listen. 
- Maybe Give no advice unless asked