We hear these words get tossed around, almost interchangeably, all the time. So what's really the big difference between sympathy and empathy, and why should it matter to a teenager?
Here are some common definitions:
1. feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune
1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
One way to help really get the difference between the two is to think of sympathy as feeling sorry for someone and empathy as feeling sorrow with someone. Climbing into the space where a friend is hurting and just being present with them. Sitting close to a friend whose crying and allowing the sadness to just be. We want so much to help our loved ones not feel pain, but oftentimes our efforts can have the unintended consequence of leaving a friend alone with their feelings. We dismiss, or minimize, or try to put on a silver lining, when what a friend really needs is to know that you are there for her and that you know that sometimes life is hard.
Rather than jumping in to fix it when your friend or your daughter or your partner is hurting, try just allowing yourself to be in the moment with them. Allow yourself, and your loved one, to have all these feelings without trying to rush past them back into the happiness zone. Here's a great video from the always-awesome Brene Brown that highlights the critical differences between sympathy and empathy: