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What is Empathy?

Empathy and sympathy are often mistaken for each other. Let’s compare the two:

Sympathy: Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone, support in the form of shared feelings or opinions or agreement with approval

Empathy: The ability to understand the feelings of another from the other person’s frame of reference even if you do not agree with or feel them yourself.

Empathy is tricky because it does not require agreement or a personal frame of reference. Empathy is a learned skill that shows someone you at the very least understand where they are coming from.

Maybe you are thinking empathy should not be applied to all situations less you get walked on. Actually, empathy works great in most mainstream relational exchanges. Great examples of this are parent child relationships or spousal relationships.

Many parents are concerned that if they show too much empathy towards their kids that they will lose control. Again empathy is not about getting walked on, but rather to show someone understanding. You can still have boundaries with people and have empathy. This will actually result in faster resolution of conflict as well as mitigate future conflict from coming up.

Here is a parent child example:

The child is refusing to clean his or her room-

Parent reflects and observes: The family has been busy lately and the child has not received as much 1-1 time and the room is overwhelming.

Parent: “We have been super busy and I can see this mess may feel big to you. If you would like, I can help you this time so we can watch a movie together later. We need to get the room cleaned up though, ok.”

Kristen Craren
Witten By Kristen Craren

Kristen Craren is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Clinical Director at Greenway Therapy . Learn more about her on her BIO page.