Eli5: what is the difference between sympathy and empathy?


People have tried explaining it to me before and I never really understood the difference. I’m hoping a simple explanation will help.

In: 25

I think that empathy is the ability to understand and feel compassion for someone, while sympathy is the actual feeling sorry for someone and their situation.

EDIT: My initial post was confusing so…

From Merriam-Webster:

The difference in meaning is usually explained with some variation of the following:

***Sympathy*** is when you *share the feelings of another*

***Empathy*** is when you *understand* the feelings of another but do not necessarily *share* them.

To make it easy to remember: S is for Sympathy; S is for sharing.

You share the feeling.

E is for Empathy; E for emotional understanding.

You imagine how they feel based on what you know about this person.

The sentiment behind empathy is often presented in the familiar idiom “to put (oneself) in another’s shoes.”

>Empathy has become a fad word for sympathy, though it was adopted expressly to mean something different from sympathy: ‘intellectual insight into another’s emotional state without sharing in it.’

—John H. Dirckx, The Language of Medicine (2nd Ed.), 1993

Sympathy is understanding someone because you’ve been in that situation before. “I sympathize with you being exhausted after working 12 hours because I have also been exhausted from working 12 hours .” (**S** = **S**ympathy = **S**elf)

Empathy is understanding someone (or trying to) by putting yourself in their shoes. “I am not a parent but I can empathize with you on how tiring it must be because you have more people to care for and more work to do to care for them.” (**E** = **E**mpathy = someone **E**lse)

Sympathy is when you feel bad or sorry for someone.

Empathy is when you understand how someone is feeling, usually because you’ve felt something similar.

A close relative dies. You *sympathize* with your family members over the loss, as you’re sharing these feelings together and it’s personally affecting you.

A stranger dies. You *empathize* with their family, because you understand the loss, but are not personally affected.