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What is Empathy?

It falls somewhere between sympathy and compassion.

20190627 Photograph provided by Peter Augros

(Re-print of post by Peter Augros, Meditation Teacher | edited, formatted and published February 27, 2021)

I’m going to take the liberty of extending this question to say,

“What is the difference between empathy, sympathy, and compassion?

Sympathy: It is not difficult to feel sympathetic for someone if you have gone through something similar to that which another person is experiencing. You can remember how the experience affected you and the eventual healing process that followed. If you reach out to the other person with words, gestures and/or actions of support, you are expressing sympathy.

One can also express sympathy even if they have not shared a similar experience. Whether or not it is received as genuine, however, depends on the appropriateness of the message. Where there is no shared experience, genuine sympathy is likely coming from an empath whereas “faux-sympathy” would be delivered by a sociopath.

Genuine sympathy is a gift given from one to another.

Using one’s experience to help another through their difficult moments, aiding them, healing them, loving them and accompanying them are gifts. Sadly, in today’s poorly-led North American society, too many unenlightened individuals refer to acts of sympathy as “not respecting boundaries”. This is a form of suppression and should be ignored as it merely robs us all of that which would be considered basic humanity by most people. 

Empathy: If you can literally feel another persons’ emotional (or even physical) pain, joy or pride as if it happened to you, you are experiencing empathy. Just as you can understand what another person is thinking by hearing, reading or seeing their words, you can know what another person is feeling or needing by “listening” to their tone, body language and energy. As an empath, you naturally have strong non-verbal communication skills.

Peter Augros’s original post:

A few other comments that relate to Andeé’s views on empathy:

How do you engender a basic sense of human empathy in a child without softening their defense against the harsh rigors of the world?

Although it may feel uncomfortable at first, paying attention to this feeling allows you, as an empathetic person, to determine the appropriate words, gestures and/or actions to share with the other person. You do this by asking yourself, “Ok, now that I know how they feel, what consoling or celebratory “things” can I say or do?”

As an empath, feelings of pride, joy and pain are exponential because your experiences are shared and not strictly “personal”.

20130615 Photograph “Sean & Cate share Joy” by Andeé Sea Cae Jak  ©SAQOTU Inc.

In other words, empathy empowers one to give gifts that are even more valuable than sympathy: ones that can significantly reduce another’s pain or enhance another’s joy.

Compassion: Compassion is something different. Imagine that you have, instinctively, just escaped from a burning building; however, as soon as you get out you realize that someone or something could still be in there and not able to get out. If you sacrifice your own safety to help others in dire need, that is compassion. It is pure love.

Similar to a bodhisattva vow, it is an attitude that says, “Yeah, it is hot in there and I could die, but there are people in there! I could not with a clear conscious stand here safely knowing that they will perish in such a horrible way.”

Among other things, compassion uses empathy and sympathy to provide even greater gifts including, at times, the gift of life.

Arguably, empaths and “compaths” are screened into fire departments; whereas sociopaths appear to be being screened into far too many police forces. This is a problem and more awareness on the primal difference between a sociopath and sympaths, empaths and “compaths” is urgently required.

(Link to The Sociopath Next Door:

* See excellent description of the narcissistic cycle of abuse (idealization, devaluation, discard)  here .

(Discuss sociopaths and link to work-in-progress philosophy page:

This issue is dedicated to Kurt Cobain, one of our artists lost.

Regarding my rough notes, mental scribbles, article ideas, outlines and research-in-progress: feel free to take the ball and run with it!

Meet Andeé Sea Cae Jak