Have you ever stopped to think about the difference between SYMPATHY and EMPATHY?  They are similar at a glance but worlds apart when you really look at how they work and more importantly, how they FEEL.

After watching this video by Brene Brown I find myself referring to it quite a bit with private clients and friends.

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When you are hurting, scared or grieving – empathy is what feels good. Sympathy is what feels like pity… or what compares your situation with something worse. While some people feel better knowing “it could be worse” it usually doesn’t help much. For me, it triggers guilt – “How could I be upset about THIS when THAT is happening to someone else??” So I gain an extra layer of negative feeling from someone’s well intentioned sympathy.

Empathy doesn’t just apply if you’ve been through something. You can have empathy for someone going through a tough time that you haven’t been through by putting yourself in their shoes and imagining what it might be like.

When a loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s there is a BIG NEED for EMPATHY.

Feeling understood and supported makes it easier to be open and ask for help. Getting sympathy that feels like pity or makes us feel guilty makes many people isolate, hide and retreat – which compounds the struggles.

This is true for you, the family member or friend as well as for the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

So the next time someone is in emotional pain, stop a second before you respond and see if you are about to give them empathy or sympathy.

When you are in pain and talk to others, think about how they made you feel… did you feel better or worse? Do you think they were empathetic or sympathetic?

Small pivots in how we interact with each out can make a big difference in the journey.

– Tara Reed