For those who know me, both of these are difficult for me to express – really, any emotion (except possibly anger) is difficult for me to express.
I thought I somewhat understood what the meanings were:
Empathy: “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 manner.”
Sympathy: “an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other” (there are more, but this is what I always used as a definition).
My understanding of the words is illustrated through the death example. Sympathy was that a friend’s relative died and that I actually knew the person who died, so I was supposed to be sad too. Empathy was that a friend’s relative died, and although I did not know the person, I was supposed to be sad because my friend was sad. These interpretations meet the letter of the definitions above, and are easy for me to “follow the rules.”
We recently received de-escalation training at work. The presenter offered a different interpretation of Empathy vs. Sympathy, which I find much more difficult to understand.