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Compassion vs Empathy – Who is The Winner?

Compassion vs Empathy – Who is The Winner?

Updated on May 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Compassion vs Empathy - Difference between Compassion and Empathy

Do you cry, if you witness a person’s suffering? In addition, feel the pain when a friend is in distress? With such emotions, many people get a feeling of contentment.

They have a notion that the ability to feel for others is like living a life of enlightenment. However, while experiencing these emotions we often tag them as compassion or empathy.

Even though they sound similar both these emotions are different from each other. In fact, it is compassion vs. empathy! Wonder how? Keep reading to find out more about these contrasting emotions.

Compassion vs Empathy Infographics

Compassion vs Empathy – Who is The Winner
Compassion vs Empathy – Who is The Winner
Tips To Cultivate Compassion
Tips To Cultivate Compassion

What is compassion?

Derived from the Latin word ‘compassion’, means ‘to suffer with’. So, feeling compassion is the same as feeling empathetic. But when a person feels compassion, he/she desires to take action.

They feel the pain of the sufferer. He/she places themselves in another person’s position while desiring to achieve more.

In fact, the feelings of a compassionate person are so strong that they are compelled to take action. Besides, he/she cannot withstand someone else struggling with life. They provide comfort, support and take action for a positive outcome.

For instance, if there is a distressed student who is unable to pay college fees. Then the compassionate person will comfort the student. As an act of compassion, he/she will lend the money to the student and will ask to repay the loan later!

Practicing compassion helps in many ways. A study states that compassion helps in boosting happiness and self-esteem. Besides, it does not lead to fatigue!

What is empathy?

Empathy is all about getting into someone else’s shoes. When you see someone in pain, you start feeling the same in your body. You start imagining yourself in that particular situation. Also, you develop the same emotions that the sufferer is facing.

An empathetic person doesn’t need to go through the same situation or events. Yet he/she has the ability to imagine, what the sufferer must be going through. And all this happens because of mirror neurons.

But when a person is feeling empathetic, he/she does not take any actions to control their emotions. Rather they do not take steps to ease the emotions of the person they are feeling empathetic for!

For instance, if a person with empathy sees a beggar on the road. He will understand what situation the beggar is going through. The empathetic person might also remember his/her hardships. But won’t take any action further.

Many misunderstand sympathy and empathy are similar. But they are not. When a person is sympathetic, he/she cares and understands the sufferings of others. But empathy is beyond sympathy.

You feel empathetic because you have someday come across such a situation. In addition, a sympathetic person feels distressed but hasn’t experienced any such situation.

Compassion vs Empathy

To compare empathy and compassion, research was undertaken. Neuroscientists Tania Singer and Olga Klimecki led this research. For their experiment, they divided participants into two groups.

One group trained in empathy and the other in compassion. And their research unearthed some fascinating differences in the regions of the brain.

This group activated the insula and anterior cingulate cortex. Insula has a link between emotion and self-awareness. And anterior cingulate cortex to emotion, pain registering, and consciousness.

This group activated the medial orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum. The medial orbitofrontal cortex has a link with reward in decision-making and learning. While the ventral striatum is also linked to the reward system.

Traits found in both groups

1. Empathy

This group found it stressful and felt discomfort. They tagged empathy as troublesome and uncomfortable.

2. Compassion

While this group had more inclination towards positivity. They had positivity in decision-making, learning, and rewards. Besides, they started having a feeling of kindness. They showed a willingness to help participants from the empathy group.

Though this study reflects how compassion is better than empathy. Yet empathy has its positive side too. There are many benefits of empathy wherein it is a boon for various businesses.

Compassion vs Empathy Difference

Compassion vs EmpathyCompassion Empathy
Definition Sympathetic feeling and concern for a person who is sufferingAn ability to understand and feel exactly what the other person is suffering
Feelings evokedA feeling of pity, concern, and sympathyA feeling of understanding
Actions TakenImplies that the compassionate person will helpDoesn’t mean that an empathetic person will help
Type of feelings evokedPositive feelings like loveMostly negative like stress
Common replies“I see your pain. Please let me know how can I help?”“I understand and see your pain”
Compassion vs Empathy Difference

How to deal with empathic distress?

The research suggested that participants trained in empathy found it troublesome. Such situations could lead to empathetic distress.

Furthermore, resulting in negative feelings, poor health, or even burnout. But there are ways in which this situation is controllable!

1. Take a break

When you see someone distressed but cannot be at their side. Then it’s better to take a break! Take a deep breath and question yourself about the feelings going on in your head.

Thinking about the things that you need right now. Keep a check on yourself first. Because if you get caught in distress, then you won’t be able to help anyone around you!

2. Question yourself

Start questioning yourself when triggered by distressful events.

  • What triggered me?
  • What am I thinking?
  • What am I imagining?
  • What action should I take?
  • Is the person genuine and telling the truth?

With questioning, you will be able to structure your thinking. Your perspective will change. You will be able to tone down the stressful feelings. Once you achieve this, you will be able to cater to the needs of others thoughtfully.

3. Practice compassion

As mentioned, compassion exhibits concern for another person. Also, it helps in alleviating that suffering. A compassionate person can easily communicate with a person with love and kindness.

Besides, you may also join a Compassion Training program that will help you boost resilience. And help you stay connected with others in a positive way.

Tips on how to become compassionate

1. Don’t be judgmental

It is difficult to guess the factors that led to the disheartening state of a person. So, it’s best to not pass any judgment. Instead, think about the hardships of life and how every person is struggling to get the best out of it.

Besides, don’t tag any decision as right or wrong and good or bad. Instead, keep yourself in someone else’s shoes. It will help you practice empathy and understand the person better.

2. Be a good listener

Several times, we stop a person from talking and start building our assumptions. But as an act of compassion, listen carefully to what the other person has to say! Let him/her pour their heart out.

If you listen with an open heart, the person might find solutions. Alongside this, he/she will accept the truth about themselves.

3. Practice kindness to yourself

We tend to demean ourselves more often. Instead, remember that humans are born with flaws. We all make mistakes and learn from them. So, self-loathing will help you in no way. Instead, forgive yourself and move on in life with a positive attitude.

4. Be present and attentive

Try to be attentive whenever you meet any person. Also, avoid multitasking, mobile browsing, or watching TV. In addition, maintain eye contact and positive body language. Because with attentiveness, you will be able to feel the person’s emotions in a better way. And considered as an act of compassion.

Along with this, you may also practice loving-kindness meditation. It is a great practice to infuse more compassion into your heart.

Closing thoughts

Though they sound similar, it might get difficult to understand compassion vs. empathy. If empathy helps in connecting, then compassion helps in taking appropriate action. Both are interconnected in their way but are helpful in many ways!

More compassionate mind, more sense of concern for other’s well-being, is a source of happiness.

— Dalai Lama

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