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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Empathy Versus Sympathy: Brene Brown

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 30th 2013

If someone shares something with you that is incredibly painful that is incredibly painful and you try to lighten the moment, that may be a lack of empathy. Empathy is about understanding where someone is coming from and caring about them, it says nothing about trying to make someone feel better. The following is a good descriptive cartoon that illuminates the difference between sympathy and empathy from a talk with Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly

Are there places in your life where someone’s discomfort leaves you feeling uncertain of what to say? Or maybe their pain is simply making you uncomfortable? 

Our brain’s are wired to get away from pain and one way we do that in a relationship is try to lighten the moment. 

One person says, “My son is failing in school.” They have clear pain, your mirror neurons pick this up and so you feel pain. Your brain jumps into action and says, “If you take her pain away then you’ll feel better.” So you say, “At least your daughter is doing well.” 

This completely misses the mark as you might have seen in the video. 

The person is in pain, they just need someone to acknowledge that and care about them. After that you might say is there any way I can support you with this? 

How we deal with our own pain and how we deal with relational pain are very similar. What we need is to feel cared about and understood and so do other people when they’re in pain. 

Ultimately, this gives us a sense of feeling accepted, a sense of belonging. 

When this happens we feel loved and isn’t that what is at the root of it all. 

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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