Do you know the difference between Empathy and Sympathy?
Watch this short video on Brené Brown explaining how these two feelings are quite different.
Brown references nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes of empathy:
- To be able to see the world as others see it.
- This requires putting your own “stuff” aside to see the situation through your loved one’s eyes.
- To be non-judgmental.
- Judgement of another person’s situation discounts the experience and is an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain of the situation.
- To understand another person’s feelings.
- We have to be in touch with our own feelings in order to understand someone else’s. Again, this requires putting your own “stuff” aside to focus on your loved one.
- To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings
- Rather than saying, “At least you…” or “It could be worse…” try, “I’ve been there, and that really hurts,” or (to quote an example from Brown) “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.”
No one person embodied God’s heart of compassion for people in distress more than Jesus. His heart broke for the sick, the poor, the hungry, the outcast and the weary.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. – John 11:33-35
Most charities are founded out of compassion. For now, let’s continue to focus on empathy.
Brown explains that empathy is a skill that strengthens with practice and encourages people to both give and receive it often. By receiving empathy, not only do we understand how good it feels to be heard and accepted, we also come to better understand the strength and courage it takes to be vulnerable and share that need for empathy in the first place.
Are you ready for some football?!
Do you ever wonder why folks get so deeply involved while watching sports? It’s due to our ‘mirror neurons’ located in our brain. Our brain has the ability to mimic the action making it feel like it’s you actually playing. This place in your brain also allows us to feel each other’s feelings. Great actors that demonstrate well inspire us to connect in the moment. We fight with the Gladiator, we cry with Will Smith in the Pursuit of Happyness and we laugh with the Princess Bride.
We are biologically wired to mimic each other’s movements and feelings. Have you developed your empathetic muscle? How do you think this would help your relationship with your spouse? Comment below!
Russ and I have struggled with Empathy and Sympathy. Russ is great with Sympathy and I’m great with Empathy but I struggle with being sympathetic and Russ struggles being empathetic. Let me explain. Russ is more logical about someone’s situation and will be sympathetic but he doesn’t bring it home. Whereas I will empathetically take on a person’s pain, making it difficult within our marriage because I bring home the person’s pain.
I am empathetic to the point I will be physically sick if Russ is sick. That’s some serious ‘mirror neurons.’ Feeling someone else’s suffering helps the recipient feel less alone but not having the proper boundaries isn’t good in the long run.
Being empathetic is something that hasn’t come naturally for Russ but I’ve watch him grow into it over the years. The more Russ can step into my world the more I feel connected to him. Whereas I’m still working on being sympathetic, especially when someone says they know a particular action is not good for them but they do it anyways. I won’t connect sympathetically nor empathetically. Can you relate?
If you’re scientifically interested, watch the video below on a BBC Documentary about ‘mirror neurons.’
Watch 2:16 – 11:41.
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