Empathy – Sympathy – Authenticity – Compassion
We hear these words a lot. In fact, they seem to be all the rage these days. But do we know what they mean?
In this endearing video, Brene Brown explains the difference between genuine empathy and not-so-genuine sympathy–and why it matters.
At first glance, it may not feel like an important distinction, but when we’re sincerely trying to support those close to us with authenticity and compassion, it makes all the difference.
Our daily activities give us multiple opportunities to show up empathetically for the people we love. But despite our best efforts, we often fail.
In fact, when we employ sympathy instead of empathy, it often comes across as pity. And no one likes to be pitied!
Focusing on connection, as described in the video, can make all the difference.
An Empathetic Experience
While recovering from the accident that nearly severed my right hand, I came to have a deeper understanding of these concepts.
Our family was very blessed during my recovery. Initially, we believed it would take a few surgeries and four or five months to repair the damage done in my accident. That initial assessment eventually turned into nearly 5 years and 20 surgeries.
During that time, countless people offered to help us. Dinners were brought in on a regular basis. My children’s needs were looked after by friends and family. A neighbor who was a nurse came to check on me several times a week. I was given rides to and from my countless doctor’s appointments. Women from church cleaned my house and gifts were often left on my doorstep. There were also hundreds of people praying for my recovery. More than once, I was overcome with emotion because of the numerous acts of service performed on our behalf.
Through it all, however, I was profoundly lonely.
I sat in a chair in the corner of my family room while life went on without me. People popped in and out of my house on a regular basis to bring meals or check on how I was doing, but it was rare to have a visitor who actually stayed to visit.
Two women, in particular, stand out to me. Neither of these friends ever brought a meal. I was never transported in their cars to an appointment. They never did anything for my children. They didn’t clean my house or bring me gifts.
But when they came to my house, they stayed. They asked how I was doing–really asked. They laughed with me and cried with me. They accessed that part of them that had struggled, too. And because of their visits, I knew there were people out there who really cared.
That’s not to say that the acts of service weren’t expressions of love.
But sometimes, the feeling connected to service feels a lot like sympathy. And sympathy can leave you feeling less than.
The women who came just to see me just to express their empathy and love–they were the ones I felt a connection with–and that connection meant everything to me! It became a lifeline during a very difficult period of my life.
The Power of Connection
This quote describes the connection I felt with these two friends:
I’m not sure what–if anything–my friends derived from our relationship during that time. But I know their presence gave me incredible peace. They allowed me to grieve instead of feeling as if I needed to be strong. I knew they saw me and heard me and valued me–just for me.
Their empathy conveyed their love more than any act of service I received.
And their examples have made a huge difference in the way I interact with people who are struggling.
So, the next time you want to serve–the next time you have the urge to do something for someone–consider if you have it in you to give empathy. It’s not always easy to dig down deep and find that part of you that can connect to someone who is struggling.
But if you can do it, you’ll not only offer a priceless gift to someone else, you’ll give that same gift to yourself.
The gift of true connection.
The gift of empathy.
To read more about my accident and the lessons I learned, grab your copy of Severed: A Memoir of Hope and Healing. It’s a powerful true story of finding purpose and peace even in life’s darkest moments. Get it on Amazon or through my website.
Save to pinterest to share with your friends!