Barriers to empathy

Many people confuse the words “empathy” and “sympathy.” Empathy means having the ability or willingness to understand and reflect back the feelings of another. Sympathy means to feel pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.


Having the willingness to listen and seek understanding is the key to expressing empathy. When a person is hurting what they truly want is a friend who will acknowledge their pain and show that they are willing to listen and help, if needed. Empathy lets others know there are others who have had similar feelings and they are not alone. It helps people move toward resiliency. Most people clam up or shy away from people going through pain, sorrow or grief and resolve to expressing sympathy, rather than empathy.