Not only in the healthcare profession is it important to know the difference between empathy and sympathy and when to use them, but it’s  also beneficial to know the differences while engaging in everyday conversations.

First, it can be useful to know the definitions of both words, before placing them into any sort of context. The following definitions have been found by
Empathy (noun):

  1.  the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Sympathy (noun):

  1. harmony of or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another.

Empathizing vs. Sympathizing
Typically, empathizing with someone demotes a stronger and possibly more personal sense of shared feelings. When one sympathizes, they are still able to share feelings, however, when empathizing those feelings along with the persons personality are more powerfully projected, which allows for a more personable feeling. Empathizing allows a person to have the ability to identify with or understand the other persons situation or feelings.

This is getting confusing..
Here is a trick to remember which word is which…
You can try to remember that sympathy deals with sorrows and feeling sorry for someone.
Similarly, you can remember that empathy is more about that powerful emotion and ability to project those emotions toward the other person

Lets put it into context now.

In the first example the speaker is referring to having compassion toward another by emphasizing that they understand or have experienced similar sorrows.

  • “I have empathy for those who have lost a family member to cancer, I had a loved one who I lost because of that as well.”

In the following example, “sympathy” refers to feeling sorry for the person in distress.

  • “I offered my sympathy to my friend who was diagnosed with an illness.”

It is important to be mindful while knowing the difference between empathy and sympathy because words can affect how another person feels. As a future health professional, it is critical to understand that the way in which something is said, can change the way a person feels. It is also important to listen carefully and actively when engaging in any kind of conversation with someone. Remember, communication is key! I hope this was helpful in explaining the differences!

Below is a fun little video explaining the importance of empathy. Please check it out!
Importance of Empathy!

Sue Ram