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Apathy, Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion...Is Anyone Listening?

Compassion vs. EmpathyThere are a number of reactions that people have when a friend, neighbor or loved one is in some kind of life crisis, emotional pain or relationship conflict in their life. Some of the reactions may range from apathy to sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Of the four reactions, apathy is the most negative because it's a way of not caring about what happens to the other person. 

Those who are sympathetic might think or convey the attitude that it's too bad that someone is suffering so very much. The implication is that they pity the person who is in crisis.  Do you feel as though others are apathetic or pitying of you? There is a persistent attitude among some of the public that if you are depressed just "snap out of it, or be resilient."

Yet, there were many others who feel empathy for the poor and homeless. people and do not know what to do to help because the entire problem is experienced as overwhelming. At the very same time, there are those who feel a sense of empathy and compassion and are able to either contribute money, clothes, and even more direct help. Of course, on an individual basis, a person who is depressed may not experience or recognize empathy when it is offered.

It's important to point out that there are problems inherent in sympathy and empathy. Sympathy carries with it more than a small dose of pity for the other. Pity implies a superior attitude to the one in pain or need. In other words, it is never helpful to feel sorry for the other person.

Empathy for the plight of others is very positive and powerful. It is the empathetic person is able to imagine being in the place of the troubled person and feel what they feel. In fact, empathy precedes compassion. Empathy without compassion leaves the individual drained of energy as a result of feeling what the other feels. Empathy occurs immediately and leaves no emotional room between the individual and the one who is suffering. 

Compassion is more cognitive in nature. There is a sense of self-awareness that provides some necessary space between the two people. The empathizer experiences the same suffering with the other,  but empathy can leave one feeling overwhelmed. By contrast, compassion allows the individual to be more helpful than the individual who experiences empathy alone. People who are in crisis want and need a combination of empathy and compassion. It is this combination that is most helpful.

Depression, anxiety, divorce, addiction, and loss are a few of the many problems and issues that afflict people. Psychotherapy is a place where you will be listened to. Help is available: http://www.allanschwartztherapy.net

If you or someone you know is in crisis please contact Dr. Schwartz at [email protected]

or through his website at http://www.allanschwartztherapy.net. In addition, his phone number is 720-470-2028


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