The Difference Between Empathy and Pity
In the past few weeks, the slippery slope of giving anyone advice has resurfaced again.
For example, where does the need to give advice come from? Truthfully, I believe it is frequently motivated by the need to “help” or fix someone else. Keeping this in mind, I’d like to consider the distinctions between empathy and sympathy.
On one hand, when you’re empathic, you have a deep understanding of the other person’s circumstance, feelings, and situation.
When someone has empathy for us we experience being cared for, heard, and understood. The concept of an empath is one who “knows” us in a very sacred and cared for way.
There are times when all of us have come into a deeply troubled place. When another person has empathy and can hold that space with us, the message becomes “I know you’re whole and complete and will find a solution without my help.”
On the other hand, when someone has sympathy, the implication is that you feel sorry for the person, and therefore perceive them as a victim, and feel the need to offer them advice.
The unconscious conversation that sympathy takes on is to powerfully reinforce of self-pity, which creates a hidden agenda of letting the other person know that they cannot handle their life without you, period.
There are times when professional intervention is necessary, but that’s not what I’m speaking of here. As a friend or a Practitioner, it really is about honoring another person’s process and knowing they can handle their own life.
We have to be careful in the area of assumptions regarding how other people feel. A few years ago, I was pulling into a parking space at the library, and I had my dog with me. He was sitting in the front seat and I made a disapproving face at him and told him to sit down. Simultaneously, there was a gentleman in the car next to me, who saw me make the face, jumped out of his car, and started screaming at me. I was completely puzzled but I listened to what he was saying. The dialogue went something like this:
HIM: What’s your problem?
ME: Excuse me?
HIM: What’s your problem? You’re making a nasty face at me!
I immediately began laughing. I explained that my dog had not learned to sit and was frustrating me. Luckily, the young man also laughed and said, “I guess I have to stop assuming everything is about me.”
It’s almost never about us when another person is in upset. There are many variables to this conversation, but I feel that this is the vital point: as a facilitator, my Client is the only expert on his or her own life- I have to honor that. And I do believe that we must all trust that the people in our lives have everything they need to resolve their own issues.
As the Beatles said, “All we need is love”.
Until next month!
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