Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Vast Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy

"I'm Stuck. It's Dark. I'm Overwhelmed!"

By nature, I wouldn't describe myself as overly compassionate. Perhaps it was growing up in an emotional home with lots of roller-coaster feelings shared and emotions acted on. Perhaps it was my church-camp style group experiences where a collective "high" is felt for a short period of time only to be followed by an intense emotional low when the stimulus has dissipated and "normal life" returns. Perhaps I have no soul.

Whatever the reason, I struggle to emotionally invest in others. I pull away - afraid that their "loss of control" will leave me a blubbering idiot ripped of my strong emotional walls. This tight-ass approach to personal relationships, has left me strong, but often isolated, alone, and distant. Friends, family, and possible new friends are held at bay by my self-preserving anti-empathy streak. 

That's when I found this Lifehacker video. While I haven't made huge strides (yet) in opening up more and creating a more empathetic aura, it helped me clearly see the difference between empathy and sympathy. Don't know the difference? Go ahead and watch the video!

If you can't watch the video now, here's the nutshell:

"The key to being empathetic is to not judge the other person, or try to paint and unwanted or unhelpful silver lining around their problem, and to instead recognize what they're feeling. You're not trying to solve the problem for them - since often statements usually don't solve problems along - the goal is to let them know you're there and that how they feel matters to you. Doing so, however, requires you be aware of your own emotions and fragilities, which can be hard for many people."

That simple explanation helped me recognize when I avoid personal contact and push people's emotional reactions away. Once labeled, I can now attack this joy-robbing habit of mine and allow me to experience a more fruitful and enriching connection with everyone I meet. 

This is the Secret I've Been Trying to Share with You!

Here's an incredible response I got when I shared this video with an intimate connection of mine:

"How does Tara empathize?

If that is what you're asking, you know the answer - based on your words above... sooo - I'm guessing that isn't the question.

The question is more like... since you (Tara) are less experienced using empathy, you're afraid of being empathetic because you don't want your 'groove' crushed - because you are struggling with so much that you want others to empathize with! ---- Right?

I'm VERY sorry that I've let this sit.

Because, THIS is the 'secret' that I've been trying to share with you for years! :)

Bottom line: by focusing your empathy (and true care and concern) on others, your issues shrink.

It's basic math.

You have a limited amount of capacity in your head to actively 'think' about things... so - a quick list of things you normally focus on:

work work

work work work

Then there is:
Your body
Wiley your cat!

Point is - you can come up with a HUGE list of things to worry about, right?

Now - go back over the list... worry is a waste of time, right? Like 'thinking' about most of those things when you're not actively doing something about them is a waste of time and energy - right? AND it adds stress usually. So you end up thinking and pondering and wondering, and stressing about A, B, and C....

And nothing is being accomplished other than 'stress'...

Well - by focusing on OTHERS, in an empathetic, caring, loving way - you are occupying your mind so you can't worthlessly stress about your 'issues'.

This plays out a lot of ways.

Obviously, you have to focus on your issues in order to improve them - actually put mind power, physical effort, etc... into solving your challenges.

And - It is a waste of time to try to be TOO empathetic too. There are a lot of people out there that did that just too much... right?

On the other hand - if you're so stressed that you're eating too much because you're bored; or you're doing 'unhealthy' things to occupy your hands as you stress about the day's events... Well, instead of that - practice empathy! Stop what you're doing. Realize that you're wasting time stressing about something you can't affect right now... ask - what can you affect right now?


You could channel the energy into something productive that needs to be done for yourself (clean the house, polish your shoes, wash some clothes, etc...)


You could practice empathy (not sympathy).

Find your lover, try to REALLY understand where he is mentally at that moment. Grasp the stresses and anxieties that may have him (or her) in a strangle hold...

Then, by 'getting outside yourself', and 'empathizing with someone else' - you LITERALLY erase YOUR worries! Your mind can only focus on so much at once!! You have the ability to erase the stresses and anxiety you feel, by simply shifting your focus onto someone else.

Ask around, I give some pretty good foot rubs!! By recognizing what I can do (provide a modicum of physical pleasure), and focusing on giving to someone else - my 'worries' are literally washed away!"

Valentine's Day Wishes

I know lots of folks groan and dread V-Day, especially if they are single. But here's a gentle thought, I'd like to leave all of you dear friends with:

Hearts + Roses 


  1. I love your last quote. Loving ones self is not an easy task but when you do life is so much better.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jodi! Yes - loving yourself changes how you view your entire world.

  2. great blog
    great photos

    do you want follow each other???


    1. Why thank you, Celyne! <3
      Yes, let's follow. I use bloglovin. I'll add you there.

  3. The last quote is oh so true.


  4. Hard to stay "fallen in love" sometimes! Especially after a long day of work for me.