Empathy and sympathy - what is the difference?
Sympathy – explained simply, is a common way that we express our condolences to someone going through a difficult time. It usually sounds like this:
Empathy is quite different to sympathy. There is no set expression of words for empathy. It requires more from us than just a statement of condolence.
Empathy always begins with good listening – I listen with the aim of understanding what this loss means to you and how you feel about it. I invite you tell me your story – I listen without judgement, without interruption and without telling you about a similar story of my own.
I do not listen with the aim of:
When I respond with empathy, my words will show you that I have heard your message, I accept that's how you feel, I'm on your wave length and I hear what matters to you.
You will notice that I’m not put off by your tears, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your grieving. On the contrary, I give you permission to have your grief, I’m not frightened by your anger, fear, anxiety, guilt, loneliness instead I try to understand it. And so I respond like this:
Doris Zagdanski is a leading figure in modern day grief and loss education. Her seminars are included in vocational qualifications in Allied Health, Counselling and Funeral Directing.