What Is Sympathy?

Sympathy is defined as an understanding between people, as well as feelings of perception, sympathy, and perception towards the needs or suffering of another person or life form. Sympathy can also be described as an emotional reaction to another person’s distress.

Why Do We Feel Sympathetic?

There are several factors that can cause a person to feel sympathy. For a person to display sympathy towards another, the other person must be in some kind of need or distress. People also tend to offer sympathy when a person has not done anything to deserve what has happened to them.

One of the cornerstones of sympathy is being able to give the other person full attention. When a person is distracted, it significantly limits the capability to illicit a strong emotional response to the other person’s situation.

Sympathy is often offered when an individual has experienced a similar situation that has directly affected them. People also show to be more sympathetic towards people who are similar to them, which is known as social proximity.

Other causes of sympathy can include:

  • Previous experience
  • A person’s mood
  • A desire to help a person who is vulnerable
  • Spatial proximity (when a person or group exists in close proximity)

People with a generally positive outlook on life are also more likely to be sympathetic towards others experiencing some type of misfortune.

How Is Sympathy Communicated?

There are several ways in which sympathy can be communicated. Verbal communication is the most common way a person will offer sympathy to another. An individual may offer another person the emotions they are feeling themselves, or acknowledge the emotions in the other person.

Sympathy can also be communicated non-verbally. Non-verbal communication can include facial expressions, body language, and physical contact. Feelings of sympathy may be displayed by patting another person on the back or possibly putting a hand on a person’s shoulder to convey a message of understanding. Non-verbal sympathy may also be communicated in the tone a person uses while speaking, such as dropping the tone of voice when speaking to another.

Sympathy in Healthcare

Amongst healthcare workers, the propensity to feel more sympathy towards patients who did not “deserve” their troubles shows to be a significant problem. For example, there is typically an inclination to feel less sympathy towards individuals suffering from “lifestyle” conditions and diseases than towards those who have succumb to diseases that have no apparent cause (or were not “caused” by the individual).

People who suffer from conditions such as addiction to drugs and alcohol, diabetes that are a result from obesity and lifestyle habits, or contracting lung cancer after smoking for several years can be shown less sympathy than people suffering from conditions out of their control.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

Sympathy and empathy are often used interchangeable, but there are differences between the two. Where sympathy is feeling compassion, pity, or sorrow for the difficulties another person has experienced, empathy can be defined as the ability to recognise and share the emotions of another person.

External Links

What is Sympathy? Read more at:, Skills You Need

Empathy Vs Sympathy, Neel Burton, M.D., Psychology Today


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