For me, in nursing practice, sympathy is easy. It’s an, “Oh, I hope you feel better,” or “I’m sorry you’re hurting.” Empathy, though? Empathy is hard.
It can be very uncomfortable to relate to patients in that way, and it can make it difficult to place boundaries around our work. Ask any nurse—a vocation often characterized by our ability to be caring—this career wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t able to construct empathetic boundaries.
I’m guilty of sympathy—I catch myself of wanting to comfort with an “at least…” or of “silver-lining it,” as Brown describes in the video. Especially in emergency nursing, it’s easy for the cynic within us to put up walls. But just as there is a difference between sympathy and empathy, there’s a difference between a boundary and a wall. Walls keep others out, whereas boundaries are erected to keep parts of us safe.