While humans prize both traits, what’s the real distinction between compassion vs empathy? Though these qualities are often used interchangeably, they’re actually different from each other. To explore the intricacies of these two emotional responses and find out how they’re connected, read on. Below, we’ll define empathy, define compassion, and then bring you to a deeper understanding well past textbook definitions.
Compassion vs Empathy: Distinguishing Two Sides of the Same Coin
In this article:
- What Is Empathy?
- What Are the Components of Empathy?
- What Are the Issues Concerning Empathy?
- What Is Compassion?
- What Are the Issues Concerning Compassion?
- Compassion vs Empathy: What Is the Difference?
What Is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. In other words, it’s the ability to feel or understand another person. Experts suggest it’s innate in humans to feel empathy toward others, and it happens mostly involuntarily. However, some experiences trigger empathy more accurately and intensely.
What Are the Components of Empathy?
Empathy is either emotional or cognitive. Emotional empathy is the ability to respond with a suitable emotion to another’s mental state. Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand that mental state. These components are independent of each other, which means a person capable of emotional empathy isn’t necessarily capable of cognitive empathy, and vice versa.
What Are the Issues Concerning Empathy?
Empathizing with others can result in either empathic anger or distress, especially if you’re unable to respond to someone else’s situation accordingly. Empathic anger is a response to a person’s pain. Empathic distress is feeling that pain, which can later transform into anger or guilt. Experts suggest deep breathing and connecting with your body to release these negative emotions.
What Is Compassion?
Compassion is the feeling or showing of sympathy and concern for others, as well as the consequent urge to alleviate their suffering. There are many theories revolving around the true meaning of compassion. Yet, all of them point toward wanting to help those who are suffering. Take, for example, doctors who have a natural inclination to put the interests of their patients first.
What Are the Issues Concerning Compassion?
Experts suggest that compassionate people are more prone to fatigue and stress, especially those who have a higher capacity for this quality. Other experts disagree and argue that compassion isn’t the root cause of fatigue or stress. Instead, they say a general lack of tolerance results in these symptoms. Regardless, to avoid any negative effects, it’s helpful to practice compassion without judgment.
Compassion vs Empathy: What Is the Difference?
In 2018 we must show the same courage as Nelson Mandela, to walk together with compassion and empathy, and help build a world of which he would be proud. https://t.co/mJ3mU9pxuX pic.twitter.com/G1Oq70EpL8
— Kofi Annan (@KofiAnnan) January 10, 2018
In a nutshell, empathy is experiencing the same emotions as another person, while compassion is feeling sympathy or concern for their circumstances. This is why experts see compassion as a precursor to empathy. They understand that the desire to help others allows people to put themselves in another’s shoes. In turn, they get to figure out how to help them accordingly.
But, there are other experts who argue that empathy is simply the ability to perceive someone else’s mental state. In contrast, they say, compassion moves the person to take action as a result of their desire to uplift the other so the latter can lead a happier life.
Learn more about compassion vs empathy based on the personal experiences of Joan Halifax via TEDTalks:
While there are varying insights with regards to compassion vs empathy as a discussion, everyone can agree that both emotions reflect how it’s innate for humans to connect with other people. Whether it’s the ability to relate to someone else’s situation, or the urge to help them out, empathy and compassion are wonderful manifestations of humanity — and they can serve as a helpful guide to a new and better you.
Do you think one of these qualities is better than the other? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 2018 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.