Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve learned how to separate empathy for patients and having sympathy for their situations. Exactly what are the two and how are they different?
Wikipedia defines Empathy as the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.
Sympathy is the perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another life form.
As a professional respiratory therapist I’ve learned over the years how to separate the two feelings.
As a new graduate working in the hospital, I was overwhelmed by these two emotions. Seeing patients who are suffering daily is exhausting. You want to wave a magic wand and make their pain and sickness go away. Seeing their families every day and watching their facial expressions makes sympathy easy. It’s learning to separate the two that becomes difficult.
In an article by Carla Delgado, a freelance reporter for Insider magazine explains, “Why the world needs you to be more empathetic and stop sympathizing”.
She does a fantastic job of comparing the two emotions, and why they should be separate.
It’s important to understand the differences between empathy and sympathy, which include:
As healthcare workers, we must determine which one is better during certain situations. Trying to understand the situation, and how a person is feeling at that very moment will provide you with the insight needed right now.
Be kind to each other even on crappy days. Applying sympathy and empathy is not just for patient care. It’s something we should be using in everyday life.
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