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Difference Between Empathy and Compassion

Empathy vs Compassion

When using the words of empathy and compassion, it is many peoples conception that they are of the same meaning. Although commonly used in the same circumstance, it is paramount to understand the difference between the two expressions.

Empathy is an emotional response to a person’s situation or well being. It is a word that is often associated with distressing circumstance or emotion. Empathy is when you try to understand how the particular individual may be feeling. You may very well imagine yourself in the same situation, developing in your mind the same emotions as the person you are feeling empathy for. By showing your empathy, you are creating a passive emotion towards an individual. Although you feel the same emotions, you do not take actions on your feelings; you do nothing to alleviate the emotions of the person you are feeling empathy for.

Compassion is a word used to express the same feeling as empathy. Yet when you feel compassion, you have more of a desire to take action. You can understand a person’s pain. You place yourself in the shoes of the individual, but you feel that you want to achieve more. Compassion is an emotion which calls for action. If a person is distressed you want to provide the individual with comfort; you want to take action to ensure a positive outcome.

An excellent example of empathy and compassion can be found in death. If we know of someone who has experienced the bereavement of a loved one we will instantly express our sorrow at their loss. We will remember what it was like when we lost a loved one; we will identify with our personal experiences and relate them to the person who has recently been bereaved. This is showing empathy to the individual, it is a passive emotion that requires us to take no action. If we show the individual compassion for their loss, not only will we understand and identify with the same feelings, but we will want to take some kind of action to alleviate their pain. For example, we may want to provide physical reassurance that everything’s going to be ok, or we may want to take away some of the pressure away by helping them with their daily tasks.


  1. Many people use both words to explain the same emotion.
  2. Although thought of as the same, Empathy and Compassion are different forms of the same emotion.
  3. Empathy and Compassion require you to imaginatively experience the same feelings as the person or situation in question.
  4. Empathy is seen as a passive emotional response.
  5. Compassion requires you to take positive action to alleviate a person’s pain or situation.

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  1. May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.

    Also, I invite you to post a link to your article about empathy to our Empathy Center Facebook page.

    • Unfortunately you are not quite right. Compassion does NOT require you to feel what the other person feels. That can be emotionally exhausting and drain you of the energy you need to help others. Compassion involves the desire to help and you do not need to actually FEEL what other people feel to have a desire to help.

      See http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/empathy-versus-compassion for more details. (Note that I am not affiliated with this site, I just found it in a simple search.)

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