What’s the difference between ’empathy’ and ‘sympathy’?

em·pa·thy/ˈempəTHē/ nounnoun: empathy

  1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. 

1: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manneralso : the capacity for this

2: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it  the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.   

The difference between the most commonly used meanings of these two terms is:

  • sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters.
  • empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another, which is why actors often talk about it.