What is empathy? 

Empathy is the act of embodying how someone else feels. It is the art of putting yourself into someone else’s shoes. Empathy is feeling someone else’s pain or joy almost as if it were your own. Empathy is when you can vividly imagine what it would be like to be in another’s situation. This is an important skill in communication because we need it in order to understand other people. And in order to full listen, like listen with the ability to truly hear what they are saying, then we must be able to understand them. Most of the time people are not yearning to be listened to, they are yearning to be understood. They are yearning to share their feelings with another person to the point where they KNOW that someone else truly gets their pain or is just as elated at their accomplishments as they are. True communication requires connection, and true connection requires empathy.  

Empathy Vs. Sympathy 

Sometimes folks think that they understand or that they know what another is going through because they sympathize with them. However sympathy is something much different than empathy. Sympathy is when you know in your mind that what someone else is going through should result in certain feelings and you get it on a mental level. Like, it makes sense to you why they would feel how they feel. But you can’t really know because you don’t know what it feels like.  

Feeling makes all the difference in the empathy vs. Sympathy thing. If you can feel it then you are probably using empathy skills. If you can’t feel emotion over it, it’s probably just sympathizing. Now don’t get me wrong, I say “just sympathizing” but it doesn’t mean sympathy is bad. Sympathy is a beautiful thing. It means you still care about that someone else feels the way they feel and you feel bad for them that they are experiencing bad feelings. But, you can’t feel the bad feelings yourself the same way that they feel the bad feelings. Ya know? I hope that makes sense lol  

When empathy is required 

Empathy is required during tough stuff normally. The times that I have had to pull out my big empathy guns were under some intense conditions. Here are examples of 3 statements that would require an empathetic response and examples of the type of responses that I might use: 

  1. Statement: “I have to get better, my mental illness is ruining my life” 

Response: “I remember feeling exactly like that at the beginning of my journey, I know that it feels like you are the only one that has ever felt this awful…but you’re not. I was in your shoes before and I know that there is solutions.” 

  1. Statement: “I’m so stressed out, I never have enough time to get everything done” 

Response: “I know exactly how you feel! I’m super busy too and ya know, balance is the hardest thing to figure out. It feels like no matter how much you do you can never get ahead of the game…but I have some great work/life balance tips that can help.” 

  1. Statement: “I just had my first baby 2 months ago” 

Response: “Oh my Goodness, that is so amazing! Being a new mom is exciting, scary, beautiful, spiritual, and emotional draining all at the same time. It’s literally the craziest experience, tell me what has been the best part for you so far?  

So there you have my take on empathy, sympathy and feelings, oh my! So ask yourself, have you been just understanding others feelings or can you feel all the feels like they’re your own?


Rachel D. Greenwell

@iamrockl on social