October 18, 2015

Empathy vs Sympathy

For the longest time I didn't realize there even WAS a difference between sympathy and empathy, but over the past several years, I have come to realize the difference. To me, sympathy is really somebody feeling sorry for somebody else. They don't necessarily understand what the other person is going through or maybe they just don't really care that much. Maybe they just feel bad because that is how they are supposed to feel. Empathy is completely different. To me, empathy is something that you feel WITH the other person. You share their pain and maybe even have experienced something similar to what they are going through.

I had a miscarriage six years ago this week. That was a really hard time for me. A miscarriage is different than the death of an older loved one. To me, it was more personal. It was a private pain that I didn't think most people really understood. I had a lot of people telling me how sorry they were for me and yada yada yada. That was very uncomfortable for me. The people (women) that helped me feel a little bit better were the ones that had been there before. It was still a private pain, but knowing that I wasn't alone, made it a little bit better. The same thing goes with other situations: divorce, loss of a child, loss of a parent, terminal illnesses, etc.

I honestly believe that the best comfort comes from somebody who has been there. When I was going through my divorce, I had a few ladies in my church who had been through the same thing. Those ladies helped me out SO MUCH! I am forever grateful to them. I was able to talk to them about what I was going through, and they were able to say “yep, I've been there. I remember what that was like. Here's part of my story. Here's what I did.” That sort of thing. Just having somebody there who understood helped so much. Other people who tried to help that I didn't know well and didn't understand the situation, didn't help any.

I was just talking to a friend about this very thing, and she said that it probably bothered me when people tried to sympathize with me because I do not need the validation. She said some people need that validation so they are constantly trying to find somebody who will feel sorry for them (sympathy). They aren't necessarily looking for somebody to help them. They just need somebody to basically tell them they are right. That thought struck me because I had never thought about it like that before. I've been there. I used to not like myself at all. I felt like I was worthless, and I attracted people who fed on that. That is how I ended up in an abusive marriage. I didn't feel like I was worthy of a good person. He came along and validated that feeling for me. He assured me, indirectly, that I wasn't worthy. In fact, he made me feel like I was worthless. Everything was my fault, and I believed him.

Here's the good part. After I left him and started seeking God and listening to godly counsel from people I trusted, I have learned my real worth. I no longer feel the need to be validated by other people. My value comes from God alone. God made me how I am, and He loves me unconditionally. He knows I will mess up, but He loves me anyway. He wants what is best for me. Heck! He sent His son to DIE for me. Now, if that isn't love, I have no idea what is. I thought I knew love before, but it wasn't. The Bible says, in 1st Corinthians 13, that “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Let's break this down.

Love is patient. What does this mean? What does it look like? What is patience? We always talk about needing patience. I ask God for patience when dealing with my son some days. I think patience is being able/willing to wait on somebody else without getting irritated or angry. When we lose our patience with another person, we usually get irritated with them. I think having patience is being able to remember that the other person is only human too and maybe looking past your own perspective about them and seeing them the way God does.

Love is kind. I think this one seems pretty self-explanatory. Being kind is the opposite of being mean. Being kind with someone means you are patient with them when they are struggling with something, when they disappoint you.

It does not envy. Webster's dictionary says that to envy means to “begrudge”. You want something that is not yours to have. This could be anything. It could be a person that is not your spouse/significant other. It could be a car, a house, another job, etc. It's more than that though. I think envy is more when that want for something else starts to consume you. Wanting something more or different from what you have is fine, but when it consumes you, there is a problem there.

It does not boast. Another almost self-explanatory term. To boast is to basically brag about your accomplishments. You compare yourself to others to try to make yourself sound better than them or make yourself feel better.

It is not proud. This goes along with the boasting. Prideful people are stuck on themselves. They don't necessarily care about anybody else.

It is not rude. When you are rude to people, you are mean to them. A lot of the times, people that are rude to others are ones that are very prideful.

It is not self-seeking. Selfish. Somebody that is not self-seeking would be somebody who looks out for the interest of others before themselves. They prioritize others above their own needs or wants. Often times in relationships, this comes as compromise. Each person gives up a little of their want so that both people can come to an agreement.

It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Somebody that is easily angered is a hot head, and I'm pretty sure nobody likes being around people like that. Keeping no record of wrongs means not bringing up the other person's past faults and failures.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. They want to do the right thing and strive to be honest and truthful.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love protects the other person from harm. This isn't just physically. This also means protecting the other person from people who want to hurt them emotionally. Love protects them from negative influences and strives to build them up. Love always trusts means that even when you don't understand why the other person is doing something, you trust that they are doing it for the right reason. You trust that they won't purposely hurt you. Love hopes for the future, for better times. Love always perseveres means that no matter what you go through with the other person, you are there for them, and they are there for you.

This passage is one I've heard probably a few hundred times, but it's not one that I have really taken to heart or applied to myself or those around me. I didn't know what love was supposed to look like until fairly recently. Those above verses are a very good guideline of what to be to other people and what to expect from those you have relationships with. Right relationships will have these. No relationship is perfect, but they can be really good. The best relationships are the ones where each person puts the needs and wants of the other person above their own. Yes, there are times when you have to take care of yourself, but in general that's what it should be like. Just make sure the other person knows when you need to have time for yourself so they don't think you are angry with them.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for now. This has kind of turned out as more of a sermon than just a few thoughts. I wish you all relationships like this.