The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy

While empathy and sympathy are similar concepts, they are not the same thing. This doesn’t stop people from using the two terms interchangeably. So what exactly is the difference between empathy and sympathy?


Sympathy is the ability to share a feeling with somebody else. If they are hurting, you are able to demonstrate concern because you can acknowledge they are feeling that way. Sympathy is typically associated with negative emotions like sorrow or grief.

An example of sympathy is sharing grief with a person that has lost a loved one. You may not be able to understand their situation if you have never had somebody close to you die. However, you are still able to feel sad for them and share their sorrow.


Empathy refers to the ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and see things from their perspective. It takes sympathy to another level, as you are not only sharing an emotion with someone but feeling it as though you are in their place.

To use the example from above, empathy allows you to put yourself in the position of somebody who has just lost a loved one. You can understand the way they are feeling and why they are feeling that way.

Why empathy is stronger than sympathy

Sympathy allows us to connect with other people as we can acknowledge the way they are feeling, making the individual feel seen and as though their emotions are justified. That being said, it is not as powerful as empathy. Empathy brings logic and reasoning into the situation, as we not only acknowledge that somebody is feeling a certain way but understand why.

We can understand their situation and what has led them to feel this way. We have a better grasp of their values and attitudes, helping to provide a more complete picture. Without this information and understanding, we simply see a reaction. This can be easy to judge if we are not aware of the background and reasoning behind the emotional response.

Benefits of empathy

Empathy has a range of benefits:

  • It helps us to build and maintain strong relationships. We can connect with others more easily if we are able to understand their perspective.
  • It improves our communication. We can understand the things that are important to another person and the way that they will best receive a message.
  • It fosters trust and respect. By seeing a situation from another person’s perspective, we are more likely to respect their feelings, and this builds trust.

5 Signs of an Empathic Person

Highly empathic people have the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others. These people can typically see another person’s perspective and understand why a person is feeling a certain way, rather than simply acknowledging their emotions. There is a range of traits uniting empathic people, including the following 5 signs.

1. They are good listeners

People with high levels of empathy are good listeners. This is one of the ways they learn to understand other people’s perspectives and the thoughts behind their emotions. Empathic people tend to practice mindful listening, demonstrating a complete focus on the person talking rather than getting distracted by things such as their phone or other people. This focus allows them to truly comprehend and absorb what the other person is saying.

2. They put other people first

Empathy allows somebody to understand another person’s point of view. This means an empathic person often puts other people first, as they can understand what they are going through and how they are feeling. Empathic people tend to focus on the needs of other people above their own because they have an acute understanding of other people’s emotions.

3. They provide good advice

Empathic people are good at understanding a range of perspectives and, therefore, can typically provide good advice. They are able to play devil’s advocate when needed and can shed light on a situation by describing how another party might be feeling. This can help other people understand a complex situation better as they may learn about other perspectives.

4. They’re good at reading situations

Have you ever had a friend who is good at reading relationships and is likely to predict the outcome of a situation before it has even occurred? Chances are this person is highly empathic. People who have high levels of empathy have a strong ability to understand others and their reactions. This means that they are likely to be able to see a situation for what it is and predict how people will interact.

5. They’re non-judgemental

Given that they can understand different points of view, empathic people are less likely to be judgemental. They are able to understand the logic and rationale behind other people’s thoughts and emotions, rather than simply seeing the feelings and reactions. This means that they are less likely to judge somebody for expressing a certain emotion or reacting in a particular way.