Sympathy is a feeling of pity or sense of compassion — it’s when you feel bad for someone else who’s going through something hard. Feeling sympathy means you feel sorry for someone’s situation, even if you’ve never been there yourself.
• Having thoughts about what someone feels
• When in conversation, giving unasked advice
• Passing judgment
• Only noticing the surface level issue
• Understanding only from your perspective
• Ignoring or suppressing your own emotions
Unlike empathy, practicing sympathy doesn’t mean you feel what someone else feels. Instead, you feel pity or sorry for someone else’s feelings. You feel bad for someone, but you don’t understand how they feel.
Why does this happen?
The precise cause of sympathy pains is unknown. While not regarded as a mental health condition, it’s thought that couvade syndrome and other types of sympathy pains may be psychological.
Some studies indicate that couvade syndrome and other causes of sympathy pains may be more prominent in individuals who have a history of mood disorders.
What’s The Difference Between Sympathy And Empathy?
Both empathy and sympathy can be useful tools – but sympathy can become patronising, and that’s something we wish to avoid. Expressing sympathy creates a divide between you and the other person- that you are lucky, you have come past the problem, but they are unlucky and still struggling. ‘I’m sorry you feel like that’ is a statement that isolates someone. You’re pitying them, not providing a sense of support. If you were to show empathy, perhaps you could say ‘Many people struggle with this issue, you’re not alone.’ This gives the other person a sense of companionship, that they are not the only one and that there is hope.
Empathy occurs in the here and now. You show empathy by immersing yourself in another person’s world, without making yourself into them – you retain your sense of self and know that you yourself are actually outside of the problem. This enables you to be helpful instead of getting caught up in the issue. Advice is an enemy of empathy in some cases- you want to stay in their world, not make yourself feel better.
Ways to Express Sympathy –
After talking with numerous grieving people who have said that after a loss they were too much in shock and numb by their grief to answer those who said to them, “If there is anything I can do, let me know.” Below are a variety of things you can do for those who are grieving to express your care and concern without necessarily saying anything.
• Look for an immediate need and fill it.
Help with basic needs like arranging transportation and accommodations, helping with kids, and helping with communication between friends and family.
• Be there when needed.
Just being present and in the same physical space as the grieving person so they are not alone, if they do not want to be alone, is helpful.
• Provide food.
Eating and preparing food can be very overwhelming and often just forgotten by the grieving person, so bringing food is helpful because then they do not have to think about where to get food and it is a reminder to keep healthy and eating.
• Sending flowers or donating to a charity.
Some say, “No flowers,” and if that is the case a house plant is an alternative. Also some families ask for donations to a charity or foundation in the name of the deceased, especially if there was an organization that was special to the deceased.
• Reach out and touch (literally).
Many have a need, sometimes unrecognized, to be touched during a difficult time. A hug, a handclasp, and hand on the back, can communicate you care without saying a word.
Just listening, letting them share their feelings of grief helps them work through their own grief and decreases the odds of prolonged depression. Also do not be concerned about causing tears by listening and encouraging them to talk, if they want to talk, because crying is a normal way to express grief. Silence is also something that is helpful, sharing silence is another way of listening.
• Send a note, card, letter, or make a phone call.
You do not have to say much to make your feelings known, a simple, “I am thinking of you” or “I care about you,” speaks volumes. It can also be comforting to recall a shred event or special quality of the deceased.
• Encourage the bereaved to get out of the house.
Be it for a quick bite to eat, or to take a walk around the neighborhood. Time is usually forgotten and the griever welcomes an opportunity to get out of the house, because they may not do it on their own at first.
• Give of your talent and experience.
Something you know how to do that they do not or are not able to do at the time, like knowing a lawyer, how to fix a clogged toilet, laundry, cooking, etc.
• Help with the days ahead.
In the beginning there are usually a lot of people around and offering to help, as time passes stay in touch – it is when people start to get back into their daily routines that friends are needed most, grief and loneliness last for many months.
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