Is There A Difference Between Compassion Vs Empathy?

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When you see a homeless person on the street, what’s your first instinct?

Maybe you rail against the injustice of the system and move on. Or perhaps you put a donation in their cup or buy them a meal.

Compassion means having real feelings for another person’s plight. Often, these feelings compel you to do something to ease that struggle. You can’t just sit and watch another person struggle.

Compassion and empathy may be used interchangeably by some people. But that’s doing a disservice to both words.

Where empathy puts you in the shoes of another person’s feelings or experiences, compassion spurs you to action. Although the meanings are related, they are not the same. And in the world of compassion vs empathy, one can feed into the other.

Keep reading to find out the key differences between compassion vs empathy to help increase your emotional intelligence.

What Is The Empathetic Definition?


If you are empathetic, you are an emotional sponge to your environment.

Empathetic people experience the feelings of those around them, whether they are human or animal.

But this is merely one take on the empathic definition.

The emphatic meaning sometimes gets confused with other traits, such as sympathy and compassion.

Here are the key differences.

What Is The Difference Between Sympathetic And Empathetic?

These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. But this isn’t entirely correct.

So, what’s the difference between sympathy vs empathy?

Where sympathetic people care about other people’s suffering, it generally stops there. On the other hand, empathetic people take it one step further.

Empaths actually experience another being’s feelings. Sympathetic people offer understanding and comfort from the outside. Empathetic people, however, understand others because they feel the experience themselves.

Sometimes viewed as overly sensitive, empathetic people don’t simply watch from the outside. They feel everything around them, sometimes to the point of overstimulation and exhaustion.

It’s not all negative, though. Empathetic people also feel the positive feelings of those around them, like happiness, excitement, and joy.

compassion vs sympathy

What Is Compassion?


If empathy allows you to walk in another person’s shoes, what is compassion?

Compassion is slightly different. The word itself literally means “co-suffering.” And it comes up when you see another person suffering.

Compassionate people often have other positive traits like generosity, kindness, and understanding. People who are compassionate feel the need to impact the world around them in positive ways.

Compassion is ranked as one of the great virtues of many philosophies and religions. You aren’t born with it, though. It’s a conscious and habit-forming behavior.

How Do You Explain Compassion?

According to researchers, compassion is made up of 5 key elements:

  • Recognizing another’s suffering

  • Understanding that everyone suffers

  • Having feelings for another’s suffering

  • Dealing with uncomfortable feelings

  • Feeling compelled to act or alleviate the suffering

A sympathetic person may send a condolence card if something unfortunate happens. Empathetic people may cry with the person experiencing a loss. Compassion, however, compels someone to do something to alleviate the other person’s suffering.

In that example, it may be offering to help take care of the family, make arrangements, or hold them while they cry. People full of compassion can’t stand by and do nothing.

What Is The Difference Between Compassion And Empathy?

One of the main differences in empathy vs compassion is the active component. Both are powerful feelings that can bring happiness and well-being. But compassion takes it one step further.

Whereas empathy is a very internal feeling, compassion moves outwards.

Empathetic feelings allow you to feel what another being feels. But compassion takes things further.

This is the difference between feeling heartbroken when you see another person crying, and giving that same person a comforting hug.

Can you feel both empathy and compassion at the same time? Of course.

Think of seeing someone living on the streets. You may have past experiences with that and seeing it affects you deeply. It may even bring you to tears to see someone brought that low.

Empathetic people feel another person’s feelings intensely. And take those feelings on as their own.

Those empathetic feelings can turn into compassion, though, when you take action. Taking the step outside of yourself to buy that person food or give them a blanket puts empathy into action.

All of a sudden, it isn’t just a feeling that you own. And you’re putting action into practice.

what is empathy

What Is The Difference Between Compassion And Passion?

Passion can be categorized as an intense feeling you feel towards something you like or love. You can be passionate about people, things, or activities.

A passionate marriage and passion for a hobby are different extensions for a self-defining person or activity. These feelings are generally internal. But they may manifest outside the body in the form of energy and time put into the things you’re passionate about.

Researchers found that harmonious passion can contribute to your overall psychological well-being. You feel great investing time and energy into your passions. And this repeated activity of engaging your passions contributes to overall positive feelings.

But passion and compassion are intrinsically different.

Think of the words “passion” and “compassion.” Passion is singular and internal. However, the “com” in compassion involves another being.

So, what’s the main difference?

Compassion compels you to dive into another person’s environment and offer help, without concern for yourself or the cost.

Passion doesn’t necessarily inspire you to do something for another.

Can you feel both passion and compassion at the same time? Yes.

Imagine being passionate about rescuing animals. Now imagine that passion leads you to volunteer your time and energy to a local rescue organization.

Having an intense feeling and the motivation to act can be a powerful combination.

The world is full of passionate people. There’s no shortage of intense feelings for work, family, and hobbies. But extending those passions outside of yourself may be a different matter.

The Final Thought

Turn virtues into good character.

– Jon Butcher, Author of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Program

Would you like to be more compassionate in your daily life? It starts with practice.

Look for opportunities to be compassionate every day until that practice becomes a habit.

Is there a “right” emotion when it comes to compassion vs empathy?

If empathy is the great connector, compassion is the bridge between emotion and action.


Have you experienced instances where empathy and compassion collided? What did you do? Share with us in the comments section below.



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