Sympathy vs. Empathy – Which For You?

Sympathy and Empathy. Not the same thing. Not even two sides of the same coin. Sympathy is kindness at a distance often with a little bit of judgment thrown in. Empathy is kindness up close and personal with a lot of acceptance thrown in. You send a card with sympathy. You sit next to someone with empathy.

With empathy, you lean in. You recognize that you can’t fix it, but you can be present. And you can bear witness to a difficult part of someone else’s journey.

Empaths do this naturally – it is a big part of who we are. Not everyone will feel with the same intensity as empaths. Not everyone will just “know” how someone is feeling by being near them without a word being uttered. But everyone can foster their empathy by simply observing and listening and STAYING PRESENT to another person.

Why would someone want to learn to give or receive empathy? Why not just stay more comfortable in sympathy? Below is a short video by Brene Brown on Sympathy vs. Empathy – and if a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth at least 10,000. This short video illustrates beautifully (and with humor) why empathy is the way to go.

“Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune” is the Google definition of sympathy. Whereas, “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another” is the Google definition of empathy. Which would you rather give and/or receive?

Just Say “I Do.”

It’s a teachable moment with a child. When they say, “I don’t care.” And you respond, ” I do.”  “I do care.” I can tell you that it takes them aback. And it catches them off guard. They look at you wide eyed. You see, you have shifted the conversation with the fewest of words. And they didn’t expect it. Your reply makes them stop and wonder. And wonder is good.

Caring is my super power – and maybe yours too. So don’t hide your light under a bushel. Be open about it. Let it shine light. Let it shine wonder. Step into the fray. You have the power to turn around a conversation, a thought, an action of another just by staking your claim – “I care.” It means “You matter to me,” and “What you think and feel matters to me,” and “What happens next matters to me.”

“I don’t care” is often a universal response to feeling hopeless. That is true for children and for adults. (Of course, sometimes “I don’t care” does mean “It is not important to me, so I let it go.” And we need to acknowledge that as a just sentiment.) When you tell someone “I do care,” you extend your hand – and your heart and your mind. You are saying, “You are not alone,” and “We will figure this out,” and “It will be okay.” You are puncturing the balloon of exasperation.

“I do care” is a game changer. It says “I see you.” It says “I acknowledge that you are at a loss for other words….” Often this exchange of words is followed by silence. Sit with it. If you are close to this person, you may offer a hand or a hug. Otherwise, just sit together or stand together. Time is on you side in this one. Let the words and your caring sink in.

By being present in this way, you are bringing hope to another. Conversation or action will eventually follow (maybe soon or maybe down the road), but you have opened the door, even if it’s just a crack. You have gently let your light in. You have engaged another soul and made them feel a little less alone in the world. And that is what caring and hope is all about.

Sacred Space….at Home

“Whether you’re religious, non-religious, or anything in between, a sacred space can help you pause, unplug, and reflect on the only work that really matters: loving the world, practicing gratitude, and being kind to yourself. 

Having a designated space in your home for prayer, meditation, or private reflection can be a constant reminder of how important it is to cultivate this sense of awe and wonder in your life.” ~ Carol Kuruvilla (How to Create a Sacred Space in Your Home, 3/04/16,

You may think, “sounds good” or “yeah, right, nice idea, but how would I ever do that?” Believe me, it IS doable in your home, and in your life.

Start by thinking about your home environment. You can start small, and grow your space as needed. Do you have a favorite chair or place in your home that you go to regularly to pause, pray or think? Do you have a desk or table where you sit to read, write, or draw what is deeply personal to you? Do you have a special pillow that you hold when you need strength or patience? Have you (perhaps unconsciously) started to add to this space with meaningful items?

My “sacred space” didn’t start that way. It started as a card table shoved in the corner of the bedroom to put my computer on. But then, I started to add personal and meaningful things to my space very gradually. Guided by spirit, and with intention, the space changed. Bit by bit, I added photos, seashells, crystals, drawings, a pitcher, candles, and words of inspiration. My space became a sacred space designed just for me. It is where I sit and where I write. It is where I feel the most me in my own home.

I’ll close with a quote I recently read from India.Arie about the importance of sacred space at home (O Mag, June 2017). “We all need sacred space. It’s important to have a place where you can recharge.  Everybody’s is different, but I do think it should entail quiet because it needs to be where you hear your spirit most clearly. For me, that’s the prayer room in my apartment.  And since my home is 700 square feet, I mean the coat closet near the front door.”


Take Me In Your Story, Please

Empaths and sensitive souls have mastered the art of escapism through stories. We hop in and go wherever the author takes us. It is a way that I have escaped many times while staying in one spot. It is freeing to let go of your imagination and be transported to new surroundings of time and place. You get to “meet” people you never would have known. You get to “experience” a place that you will never actually be. But because of our powers of empathy, we connect, we meet, we learn, we know.

Stories can be written words or spoken words. Stories are in books, in songs, in films, in Ted talks, in interviews, etc. They abound. And we are drawn to them. Because they increase our depth of experience. And they add to our emotional knowledge. And unlike real life, you get to pick the stories you want to enter.

For me, stories have always offered a needed escape. As a young child, I couldn’t wait to learn to read and see why my mother often had her head in a book. I wanted to know what was so fascinating and how I could get to that interesting place. As a teenager, I would play my music loudly and sing along with the band and be drawn in to their songs. Those words let me express how I was feeling too. I really like reading novels that transport me to another time and place and experience. When I’m reading a good book, I can tune out everything around me. I am in the moment with the characters. It’s the characters that get me every time. That goes for movies too.

This summer, I have been rehabbing my back. (True to form, like many empaths, I have back problems.) A saving grace for me this summer has been Hamilton. I have listened to it over and over again. This story and this music has captivated me. It makes me forget my troubles when I listen to it. I imagine what life was like for the characters/real people at that time. It shares joy and sorrow. But mostly, it inspires. And I need some inspiration right now.

So, when you need to forget your troubles, or escape from the mundane, take heart. There is an escape route nearby. Jump into a story.