Empathy is often confused with sympathy. Sympathy is more the ability to share or communicate others feelings. While empathy is the deep ability to understand and communicate someone’s feelings as if they were your own, but not. For me empathy is the deeper of the two as it lets the other know that you hear them and have a connection to the hurt they are in that particular moment experiencing.

I often tell couples who are in crises due to a betrayal that apologies are important but only go so far as to healing the pain. The work we do once the apology has been acknowledged is to have the betrayer express empathy as to what his/her partner may be suffering from the pictures in their mind around the betrayal. As this occurs, it allows two things to be accomplished, one: the injured party hears that there is true understanding of the profound pain suffered by their acting out, and two: if the person who acted out can truly empathize with the hurt caused, the likelihood of their doing it again is diminished. Additionally, when one realizes the extent of the hurt caused to someone you care for/love, you truly get that you don’t ever want to cause them that kind of pain again. From this vantage point true healing can commence if both are committed to it.

When offering empathy, it is a deep, engendering closeness to the person you are offering it to. Sympathy just doesn’t have this intensity or the sincerity for me that empathy does. The depth of wanting to connect and let the other person know that you care about them, while having their backs is connoted much more with empathy. I also believe that the person you care about for whom you are offering empathy feels your concern for them, and therefore feels less alone. It is a wonderful feeling to know that  someone is right there with your emotions and holds them in a non judgemental, unconditionally loving space.

Empathy has the ability to allow one to feel attended to, heard, honored, cared for, appreciated, not alone, closer to, and more deeply connected to by the person offering the empathy. It is a vital part of being in relationship and growing with someone. It is the juice that deepens and strengthens our attachments. Thus bringing to each, a sense of safety and security within their connection.


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