Difference between Empathy and Sympathy

Updated on February 20, 2018

Empathy is your ability to feel for other people. If you know the art of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand their pain, you are empathizing. Sympathy also comes out of compassion and care, but it is limited to feeling sorry for the other person. Thus, empathy is considered superior over sympathy. People often mix the two terms and use them as one but these are different on emotional grounds.


Derived from the Greek word ‘empatheia’ which means physical affection or passion, empathy can be defined as a person’s capacity to understand others’ feelings. Anyone can sympathize with you, but only a few know how to empathize. If a person cannot feel empathy, it would be difficult for him to be considerate while communicating with you. The one who empathizes has shared feelings and emotions and does not confine his compassion to showing happiness or sorrow.

Facial expressions hold the power to communicate empathy or sympathy

Sympathy has been derived again from the Greek word ‘sympatheia’ which means passion and grief. Sympathy can be defined as a feeling of pity for someone’s despondency. In this case, one only feels bad for the other. He may or may not have the same emotions as the other person. The other person’s viewpoint may not be understood by the sympathizer. He would often only pray for betterment of the other person’s condition.

Empathy vs Sympathy

The major difference between empathy and sympathy is realized when it comes to understanding someone’s emotions and situation. Putting oneself in someone else’s situation is not child’s play. Sympathy doesn’t involve understanding the point of view of the person with the problem. It only means showing kindness and comfort to the affected person. On the other hand, empathy is more personal a concept and involves feeling for someone as if they were you.

Empathy often ends up deepening a relationship, but sympathy may or may not, since, in the latter case, you only nod to what they say and feel, and provide support to them. There are no mutual feelings that could create warmth in the relationship, no matter what it is.

Of course, there is a difference between “I can understand what you are going through. It takes courage to do that”, and “I know what has happened. I feel sorry for you.” You would love to hear the former sentence from a close or known person. Who wouldn’t?

Forget sympathy, start empathizing with people, and notice how it makes a difference in your life as well as theirs.

Comparison Table

Empathy Sympathy
Empathy is putting oneself in another person’s situation and feeling what he is going through.Sympathy is knowing  another person’s pain and lamenting it.
Empathizing is more personal.Sympathizing is general.
One can empathize with many.One can sympathize with one or many.
Empathy can strengthen a relationship between two people.Sympathy can be honest but does not involve shared feelings.
Did this article help you?
Thank you!
Thank you!
What was wrong?