Are you confused about the difference between compassion and empathy? If so, you are not alone …. While empathy is the ability to tap into the suffering of another being, to feel their pain so to speak; Compassion is the true desire to help alleviate that suffering. What about sympathy? Sympathy is the recognition that another person is in pain, whether emotional or physical.

Often you hear people state that they feel too much, that the suffering of others takes a real toll on them. When we stay in this state of suffering in ourselves; it is harmful to us and it prevents us from moving into wise action that helps alleviate the suffering in others.


Standing At The Edge

Joan Halifax in her book Standing At The Edge highlights how empathy can become a state of empathic distress.

“When we feel into the suffering of another person, empathy brings us closer to one another, can inspire us to serve and expands our understanding of the world. But if we take on too much of the suffering of another, and identify too intensely with it, we may become damaged and unable to act.”


Moving from Empathy to Compassion

Moving from empathy to compassion allows us to shine our light and transcend the suffering into connection and love.

The question is simple: “How can I help?”

” Compassion takes empathy and sympathy a step further. When you are compassionate, you feel the pain of another (i.e., empathy) or you recognize that the person is in pain (i.e., sympathy), and then you do your best to alleviate the person’s suffering from that situation.”

a child giving a red apple to a poor man begging on the streets, the difference between compassion and empathy

Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D., is the Dalai Lama’s principal English translator.


Jinpa posits that compassion is a four-step process:

  1. Awareness of suffering.
  2. Sympathetic concern related to being emotionally moved by suffering.
  3. Wish to see the relief of that suffering.
  4. Responsiveness or readiness to help relieve that suffering.

Compassion Can Take Different Forms

Saying it like it is: sometimes the truth needs to be stated in order to help the other person make progress and suffer less

Helping hand: what help is needed? A meal? Your company? A hug?

Listening ear: acting with compassion may just be truly listening to another human being

Fundraising for a friend: taking bigger steps to help another allows other to participate in this compassionate act …

Volunteering: doing for others through an organization that is aligned with your values and your purpose

And it all goes back to the question you may ask yourself and others:

how can I help?

a young Indian woman holding the hand of an elder woman in the hospital, moving from empathy to compassion
Shirly Gilad, owner of Integrative Hypnotherapy Boca Raton and Holistic Center of Boca Raton, specializing in hypnotherapy for all your needs