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Martina Jay

SCBI#69: The Nuances of Compassion & Empathy

Published about 2 months ago • 6 min read

Compassion, Empathy & You

Everyone experiences emotions. It's how we function as human beings. And with that truth comes the fact that in life, we often have to deal with not only the emotions that we feel but also the emotions that others experience. And it’s no secret that dealing with other people’s emotions can be a challenge. (I know you agree with me here!)

Two very common ways to deal with other people’s emotions are to evoke compassion and/or empathy. These two responses have a very powerful effect on your life…but if you’re scratching your head wondering what the difference between them actually is, then let me explain so that you can respond in a way that is supportive.

Compassion vs. Empathy

What’s the difference between compassion and empathy? They often get lumped together so it’s not unusual to see the two get confused with each other but there is a VERY important difference between them.

Knowing this difference has the power to change how you experience emotions in your life – especially the emotions that don’t belong to you!

What’s the same or similar between them is that both compassion and empathy deal with other people’s emotions. But it differs from here on out.

What Is Compassion?

Compassion is thought of when you show sympathy for someone else’s feelings or emotional experience and you want to help them. You want to try to be helpful and understanding so that some form of action can lead to helping that person. In other words, you know they are feeling a certain way and you try to do what needs to be done because you love them and want to help.

What Is Empathy?

Empathy, on the other hand, is also about having an awareness of someone else’s feelings and emotional experience but instead of showing sympathy, you start to actually take on their emotions yourself. This is about putting yourself in their shoes and trying to see and feel a situation as they do so that you can understand it fully.

With empathy, you feel their feelings – good or bad. With compassion, you are aware of their feelings and can identify how they feel but you might not necessarily understand it. And the key thing is that you respond in a way to help them.

How Do Compassion and Empathy Affect Our Lives?

Compassion and empathy allow us to think of others and to take other people’s emotions into consideration. It’s about expanding past just what we feel.

Compassion and empathy can often link and happen at the same time. You can feel empathy – put yourself in their shoes and truly understand what they’re going through – while also helping them.

Here’s the ‘warning’ that I like to give. While empathy has its powerful beauty, (I mean, being able to understand what others are feeling and going through is powerful, right?) but it has its downside.

Imagine feeling other people’s emotions all the time? Imagine each time your best friend is sad you feel sad too? Or when someone gets angry, you feel angry too? It can be exhausting! And the funny thing is, those emotions aren’t even yours. You’re merely choosing to put yourself in their position.

The power comes in actually doing something to help them. If you’re only going to be empathetic, is that what’s best for everyone? Is feeling sad along with them going to help them feel any better? (Sometimes it can.)

Each situation will be unique so I’m not putting a one-size-fits-all explanation on this.

But it’s when compassion comes into play, that’s where the impact happens. When you are aware of someone else’s emotions and you decide to do something helpful, that’s the impactful part.

*I’m not going to go into the concept of being an ‘empath’ here. That needs a whole other discussion. Empaths are described as people who continuously take on the emotions of those around them.

Painting the Picture of Empathy and Compassion in Real Life

Example 1:

Your friend is upset at something that happened.

Empathy: You understand what happened, you get why they’re sad and you start to feel sad too because you know what it feels like to be in their shoes. Now you’re both feeling sad. (But note that nothing has been done with empathy alone here.)

Compassion: You are aware of what happened and know that they are sad. You don’t necessarily need to understand why that situation made them sad or agree with it but you know you don’t want them to feel this way so you do something to try to help. You invite them out for coffee so you can talk about it and cheer them up.

Empathy & compassion: This combines both. You understand their feelings and why they're sad. You feel a little sad yourself and you still decide to invite them out for coffee so you can talk and cheer them up – or even just take their mind off of it.

Example 2:

You notice a homeless person sitting on the street, looking sad and asking for help.

Empathy: You tear up and feel so sad and hopeless. You might even cry as you make eye contact with them and walk on by, showing them your sadness.

Compassion: You understand that their situation is difficult and that they are struggling. You smile at them to give them hope and show them you are aware of them. You offer to buy them a coffee to warm them up. (This is your way of helping in a way that you can.)

Empathy & Compassion: You get upset and feel really sad for them because you can only imagine how hard that must be to not have a home AND you offer them a coffee and smile at them to show them you care.

Showing More Compassion

If you only ever show empathy without any compassion, you might think that you’re helping but you’re really not in the grand scheme of things.

Your best friend won’t feel better if you’re sad every time she’s sad too. The homeless person won’t feel better if everyone who walks past them just feels sad. If you experience a lot of empathy, what’s going to happen is you’ll exhaust yourself and overwhelm yourself with emotions that aren’t even yours.

And just to be clear, I’m not saying empathy is bad. Empathy is incredible at truly understanding how others are feeling and certainly creates a way to connect but it’s not always necessary. If you find yourself very empathetic, just be aware of it taking place so you can understand how it might be affecting you and that it might not be having the benefit you think it does.

Compassion is where the impact lies when dealing with other people’s emotions. Showing more compassion – a willingness to help others in whatever small way – is going to make others and you feel better.

**It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to help everyone or fix everyone’s problems. NO! This slips into the people pleasing behaviour and the belief that other people’s problems are your responsibility to fix.

Nope nope nope nope nope. Don’t head there with compassion. Allow compassion to be a part of your life but not to override it. 😉

Knowing the difference between empathy and compassion will help you be more aware of how you are actually responding in an emotional situation. You can start to see if your empathy or possibly over-compassionate side are affecting your life.

We can show compassion through our words. Through small deeds. Through listening. Compassion doesn’t have to take up lots of our time or energy. But it does go a long way to know that how we respond to someone’s emotions can help positively impact someone else’s life and that we don’t need to take on someone else's heavy emotions in order to help them.


In Summary:

The small change → understand the difference between empathy and compassion and how they play out in life

The big impact → it allows you to have a greater positive impact on others’ lives while avoiding emotional overwhelm and exhausting yourself

Have a wonderful week you lovely souls.

Martina x

PS - As of this week, I have a new system for taking on new clients. If you feel called to finally let go of the past and the old patterns keeping you small and unfulfilled, there is a simple application form you can fill out here.


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Martina Jay

Hypnotherapy & Empowerment | Mind, Body & Energy

So you want life to feel easier, more fulfilling and simply more enjoyable? You want to stop getting in your own way? You want to stop living your life according to other people's expectations and start discovering your own empowerment? Well, you've come to the right place! My newsletter, 'Small Changes, BIG Impact' is all about making life make more sense so that you can have a deeper sense of control within in. We know that life throws us curveballs sometimes but imagine being able to navigate the ups and the downs with more ease and confidence? Imagine feeling empowered, worthy and confident in who you are and what you are here to share? Allow me to help you on your healing journey through making small changes that create big impact. I show up in your inbox every Saturday morning at 9:55am BST. Never Spam, always insightful. | Certified Hypnotherapist | Master EFT/TFT Practitioner | Reiki Master | Master NLP Practitioner | Time Line Therapy Practitioner | Mum of Twins | Recovered People Pleaser | Former Perfectionist | Multi-passionate Manifesting Generator | Empowered Woman 💛

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