“Feel Sorry For” vs. “Empathy”

Andrea Toole
The Startup
Published in
4 min readJan 2, 2020

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

“You’re just saying that because you feel sorry for me.”

“You just [action] because you feel sorry for me.”

“She [did good thing] because she felt sorry for me.”

I’ve heard several variations of this phrase.

Today, I want to share what I think “feel sorry for” means and its close relationship to empathy, sympathy and pity, which share roots.

Do you share the emotions of another?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When someone said to me recently, “You just feel sorry for me,” I answered, “No, I empathize. I don’t feel sorry for you.”

There’s a difference:

Empathy is a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another. When you’re empathetic, you can connect to the pain of another. You might have had the same or similar experience as the other person, or you might have experienced the same emotions in response to a completely unrelated type of situation. They’re experiencing the aftermath of one kind of disappointment, you’ve experienced disappointment in another way.

Sympathy indicates a disconnection from the experience of another. There might be a lack of understanding. Without understanding, without having gone through it yourself, you can’t fully empathize. Although sympathy rooted in care and concern, it doesn’t have a shared connection like empathy does. As the sympathizer, their experience is not within your realm of understanding because you have never gone through what they have.

Sometimes the sympathetic person is passing judgment on the other person.

Sympathy can still carry a feeling of concern, but that concern is more detached.

Brene Brown has said that “Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy feels with people.

Here’s another distinction I thought of:

People who sympathize give cliches and platitudes. If they discuss themselves, that’s where their focus is.

Andrea Toole
The Startup

Digital Marketing Manager | Freelance Writer | ADHD Mentor | Available for hire. http://andreawrites.ca.