Empathy vs compassion

In the last few days I have visited two beautiful people who are very dear to me who are in different hospitals, both having suffered cataclysmic events this week. B has become completely paralysed after a fall, and M was taken in with extreme pain, had a lump detected on his kidney and now awaiting the results of a scan on his lungs to see if it has spread.

I have found my happiness level and mood sink dramatically in response. I am aware that while this is not useful to either of them or me, it seems a natural empathetic response. Then I read an article today that helped me to clarify the difference between empathy and compassionate caring.

The latter maintains a certain distance, while has no less love and care than the former, which is a kind of enmeshment with the feelings with another.

Here is an excerpt which describes the difference well.

“It is worth expanding on the difference between empathy and compassion, because some of empathy’s biggest fans are confused on this point and think that the only force that can motivate kindness is empathetic arousal. But this is mistaken. Imagine that the child of a close friend has drowned. A highly empathetic response would be to feel what your friend feels, to experience, as much as you can, the terrible sorrow and pain. In contrast, compassion involves concern and love for your friend, and the desire and motivation to help, but it need not involve mirroring your friend’s anguish”

I haven’t really processed this through and want to read and understand about it more, but I’m really glad I read this today, as I was in danger of drowning in my sadness for their misfortune.

I will take a little step back and rest more deeply into my compassion for them now. This will be much more helpful to all of us. The full article is at the link below


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