What is empathy? How is it different from sympathy? Is it even important?

Brene’ Brown, the vulnerability researcher, breaks down the essential steps to provide empathy in this animated video.  These steps help address the complication of understanding and practicing this BIG skill, allowing oneself to provide compassion and support others.

Empathy vs Sympathy

Now, you may be asking, what is the difference between sympathy and empathy? In the video, we witness sympathy being expressed through kindness, but lacks understanding and perspective of others. Sometimes this may cause one to feel shame and/or judgment to a distressing situation or incident. Sympathy, typically, has a lack of perspective taking and does not recognize others emotions. However, empathy is when the responder makes effort to comprehend other’s distress and provides sentimental feedback to other’s distress through emotional sensitivity and understanding.

According to Brown, to provide effective empathy one should consider these major components:

  1. Perspective taking: Listening to the truth of someone one else’s experience and acknowledging it as truth.
  2. Staying out of judgment: Paying attention to what makes you pass judgement (ex: discomfort, shame, personal bias), focusing instead on being more understanding.
  3. Recognizing others emotions: Coming from an emotional healthy space and allowing someone else’s emotional needs to come first.
  4. Communication to discuss those emotions: Providing a safe space to provide dialogue on their emotions or experience.


Why is Empathy Important?

  • You will provide a safe space for others to express their feelings.
  • You will better understand the needs of others.
  • You will discover commonalities you have with others.
  • You will better understand the sensitivity of others with your words and actions.
  • You will become familiar with the nonverbal communication of others.
  • You will learn how to stimulate and motivate others around you.
  • You will cultivate others perspective by seeing the world through their eyes.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  When practicing empathy, the goal is to make someone feel supported, heard and understood. These feelings can help the effect and increase their emotional state of others.

Practicing empathy is not always easy. However, Brown encourages everyone to practice giving and receiving empathy, allowing a safe space for vulnerability within society.