Thursday, January 9, 2014

empathy, sympathy and connecting

one of the challenges we have as humans, and you could suggest every species has this challenge, is connecting with others. sometimes it can be hard to connect to even the closest of friends or family when they're going through something that may be foreign or unknown to us. and this brings up a topic of discussion i've been thinking about recently which is empathy vs sympathy. reading those words now, you might think immediately, "oh i know the difference between those two words, i'm in the clear" (which is exactly what i thought to myself) but being more empathetic or more sympathetic when speaking with others can make or break your ability to connect them with. 

i think about this a lot as i'm getting older and i find its not as easy to make friends in the adult world as it was when i was younger. i'm not thrust in as many friend making situations as i was when i was a kid (school, classes, sports teams, etc). and when we were kids, we didn't have the responsibilities we may have now (relationships, children, pets, etc) that fill in any extra free time we have in our day. this makes every encounter i have with another person feel almost like do or die: "if i can't connect to this person now i will likely lose out on the chance to build a friendship with them". i often worry that i'm not saying the right things, or maybe i'm not cool enough or there just doesn't appear to be enough in common for a friendship to "click" but i never once thought that my attempts to relate to this person may be whats jeopardizing my ability to connect with them. i've always thought i was good at relating, at empathizing, at sympathizing. 

the video below was shared with me and it changed my whole perspective on connecting with others, specifically through empathy or sympathy. the video is about 3 minutes long and its by the incredible dr brene brown (who has so many amazing talks out there you have to go listen to more of them. the power of vulnerability is one of my favorites). 

after watching this video, i started thinking about the ways i try to connect with fellow bloggers and other folks i have the opportunity to interact with both offline and online. am i responding to blog comments or blog posts with empathy or sympathy? am i going in with an "at least" statement when trying to respond to events that are happening in lives of those i'm talking with? am i turning people off by how i'm responding to them or am i showing them i'm actually here for them and that i care?

i want to build connections with people - i want to connect to others - and this video opened my eyes to the fact that maybe the reason i don't seem to be connecting to others isn't because of something thats wrong with me (the we just don't "click" theory), but maybe its the words i'm using to try and relate to that person that are keeping the connection from happening. 

i want to work on my ability to show empathy to others; in "real life" and in the online world and in doing so i hope that i can improve on my ability to connect to others and hopefully strengthen and create new friendship in the coming years.

what are your thoughts on empathy vs sympathy? do you think they make a difference in connecting with others? how do you build connections to people? do you find it difficult to make friends as an adult? if you don't, what's your secret??! ;) 


  1. Love this post! Very introspective and honest on your part :) And yes, it is much harder to make friends as an adult! I am lucky to be in a workplace with many young people, which helps a lot. Otherwise, I've found running to be one of the best ways to make friends IRL and online!

  2. I agree with you. Actually when I taught middle school, we had to do a lesson on Empathy vs Sympathy, but at that age I think it went over their heads!

  3. As soon as I read the title of this post, I thought about that video and I was going to share the link with you! I thought this was SO eye-opening, and it was right after I got in an accident on Thanksgiving and I felt like I was receiving a lot of sympathy. It actually brought me to tears because it was spot on. Since we all take turns being both on the giving end and the receiving end of empathy (and sympathy), it's something I think we should all be aware of.

  4. I have a very hard time making friends as an adult I am finding. Besides people I see at work and my one good friend at work...I really only have one friend. One real friend. Ugh.


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