I'm not sure why I've been thinking about empathy and compassion. Perhaps it is because two acquaintances of mine, who I keep in touch with regularly, are going through some crazy stuff right now, separately. Part of me wants to be open and vulnerable with them, but the other part of me is saying, "whoa, girl... know your limits, know what you can take on". Empathy or compassion? Sympathy? What is the difference?
Empathy is a noun that refers to the ability to feel the emotion that someone else is feeling, therefore, being better able to relate and understand that person. It has been said that empathy is one of the most important interpersonal skills to have, because it aids in relating and connecting to people in all capacities of life. Perhaps, but be aware.....
Compassion is a noun that refers to the ability of lovingly caring about the emotional or physical suffering of another without feeling the actual emotion or pain, yet having the added element of a strong desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another... they are motivated into action.
Sympathy is not as involved as empathy or compassion. Sympathy is feeling sad for someone else's circumstance or loss of a loved one, yet not be able to viscerally feel that person’s pain. After all, it is not her parent that died, so it is not possible to feel the way only a child or a parent feels in a loss. This is why we send sympathy cards, and not compassion or empathy cards. Only someone who has lost a child can fully relate on an empathetic level to someone else who has lost a child. To the rest of us, we can only imagine the sorrow and show that we care, but still not be able to process the loss fully. This is sympathy. However, we can practice compassion, by reaching out and being present with them in their suffering with a strong desire to help alleviate some of their pain, even though they must go through their own healing process at their own pace.
In quantum physics energy vibration terminology, empathy would mean lowering your vibration to match the level of the one pouring out, to effectively relate. Compassion is maintaining a high vibration level, yet having a deep care, love and desire to help or alleviate the pain and suffering of the one pouring out.
Which is better? Compassion is certainly safer because you are coming from a place of strength. If a person who feels empathy can bounce back without taking on and then owning the low energy of the one pouring out, then all is good!
One of my sons was extraordinaire empathetic... very tender-hearted, felt everything! Because he cared, people were drawn to him, especially girls it seemed, and layered on him their stresses and insecurities during high school and after. To him, his empathy was a curse because he didn't understand what all was going on or how energies worked. He was taking on his friends low emotions, yet not understanding that none of the heaviness he was feeling belonged to him. His friends would often leave their conversation in a better space mentally; however, he always felt heavier after. As a result, this cumulative negative heaviness turned into crippling anxiety for him. He went through a huge learning curve the next couple of years. Once he understood what was going on and how to protect himself, he was able to turn this curse into a blessing. How? By moving to a higher state of consciousness where he learned to be compassionate instead of empathetic. He learned how to maintain a high vibration level, while still having care, support, and a listening ear for the one pouring out. I talk more about this process he went through in my book.
The Bible doesn't speak of Jesus being empathetic (except when he felt it all on the cross, I must add). It often speaks of him being moved with compassion... compassion generates action. During his ministry, Jesus never lowered his faith (vibration level) to match the one who was in need, even though his love for them surpassed anything we could even begin to understand. By being compassionate, he was able to help and heal where necessary, while maintaining his own spiritual and mental well-being. When he touched the man who had leprosy in Matt 8:3 (a no-no in that culture), Jesus didn't become leprous, but rather, virtue went from himself to heal the man.
However, choosing compassion isn't a decision we can just make on a whim. Compassion operates and resides at a higher level of consciousness than empathy. If you have compassion for others, chances are you will also have some level of love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and patience in your life. These characteristic all vibrate close to the same level of faith/consciousness. See the below Emotion Vibration Chart
Level Emotion Log (hertz)
Divine Consciousness ineffable, infinite space 700-1000
Peace Bliss 600
Joy Serenity 540
Love (unconditional) Reverence, compassion 500
Reason Understanding 400
Acceptance Forgiveness 350
Willingness Optimism 310
Neutrality Trust 250
Courage Affirmation 200
Pride Scorn 175
Anger Hate, resentment 150
Desire Craving, lust 125
Fear Anxiety, dread 100
Grief Regret 75
Apathy Indifference 50
Guilt Blame 30
Shame Humiliation 20
Depression (acute) Hopelessness 15
Undeserving Despair 10
Body Death no emotion 0
Compassion seems to be the high road to take, if possible. Not only is your sense of mental and spiritual well-being not being put at risk, but you are in a position of strength to help effectively. When you are strong, then you help raise up the vibration level of the other person... like the way a tuning fork works. It is very difficult for healing to take place on the same level that it was created emotionally.
When you’re compassionate, you’re not turning a blind eye to suffering, yet you’re not feeling overwhelmed by it either. When you are practicing compassion, you can stay present, yet safely detached, with the suffering of another.
Be compassionate with yourself, too. Learn to be present with what you are feeling. Observe it while you feel it. Be there. Whenever you observe, you are casting light on it, which causes the darkness to gradually dissipate.
Good luck with this! Be empathetic, but know yourself, know what you can handle, know what you can take on. Be aware. Be present. Be compassionate!