sympathy/empathy… the difference, the impact

There is a quite a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is much easier than empathy. Sympathy is feeling bad for someone that may have had a loss, is in a bad situation, or was a victim of an accident. I can feel sympathy for the person that was in an car accident, or  the person that fell off his roof and broke his ribs. Empathy is a little harder. It’s not so much about feeling bad for someone or their situation. Empathy is about putting yourself in that person’s place and trying to feel how they are feeling. By doing this we find it much easier to want to try to comfort them and help them.  Being a trauma nurse/ ICU nurse has taught me how important it is to have empathy. If we can’t feel empathy for people, we just get impatient, frustrated, angry, short, and we end up not doing things that would or could help them. We become stuck in straight line way of thinking, pessimistic, and unable to see past the negatives. Sometimes it’s just hard to have empathy. The ones that I have a hard time with are  the ones that  inflict the damage on themselves, the drunk drivers that hit poles or land in ditches, the iv drug users that lose their arms due to dirty needles, or the ones that get shot by gangsters or the clerk at the gas station that they were trying to rob. Yes, they are injured, yes, they have pain and want pain meds, and they need cared for.  But, why, why are they so demanding, hateful, ungrateful, and complain about their care? It doesn’t matter why they are there or how they act, nurses are still expected to have empathy and smile and go above and beyond.
After many many years of taking care of these types of patients, there’s one thing that I had to learn and that is how to “fake it”. For the ones I have a hard time feeling sympathy or empathy for, I learned how to pretend like I do regardless. Its a mind thing. Its being able to feel one way but act a different way. Kind of like painting a Walmart smile on your face.

The thing is……I can only pretend for so long , eventually it catches up to me and the painted smile fades into blurred lines.   Once home, tired from the 12 hour days, emotionally drained, physically drained, tired of pretending…. and then,  the person I love…. As soon as I get home, is complaining of his aching back, telling me how he hurt it by stretching wrong, asking for a back rub. Lord, help me! I have a hard time feeling the empathy, or even sympathy. I can’t even fake it anymore. He sees my look of  disgust. He thinks I don’t care about him. He thinks he’s not important. And I don’t say a word.

He doesn’t understand. Its not his fault. But one reason I have a hard time feeling any sympathy or empathy for him… well, he doesn’t do anything to help himself. He eats like shit, he smokes like a chimney, he eats like a garbage disposal, and he sits on his ass 75% of the day. Granted, he has a legit eye injury that keeps him from working, but after 5 years….

I just don’t know what to say somedays or what to feel.


  1. I truly understand the multitude of emotions and the confusion relationships experience under the circumstances you discuss in your post. People see life from their individual perspective. Men and women commonly think differently. It doesn’t make one person wrong and the other right. You have worked very hard to attain better health. People don’t understand how much of a commitment is required to achieve a PROCESS that will last a lifetime. It’s not just about weight loss because weight problems are merely the symptoms. Seek a number on a scale and you may succeed or fail; seek a PROCESS to better health and the scale takes care of itself. When a partner adds their symptoms on top of your pile accumulated from work it becomes overwhelming. Resentment is a typical response. I hope your spouse is open to honest communication. If you could explain the detriment his lifestyle is causing to his health AND your stress level, he may be more responsive to change. If he takes your comments as criticism, his response is more inclined to be defensive in nature. If the two of you are looking for quality time together, it requires physical capabilities as well as emotional ones. If he can understand your concerns are meant to enhance a relationship, he might be more open to the PROCESS. I hope this explanation from a male perspective helps.


    • Unfortunately, he’s not really open to communication. He doesn’t like anyone telling him what’s good for him. He has limited education and a very defensive attitude. I’ve tried many different approaches to try to get him to be healthier for himself. He really just doesn’t care. Or if he does, it is brief. He acknowledges that he needs to change, but never tries. I can’t make him change, its frustrating, but I kind of understand. It took a long time for me to finally change and see reality, and I’m a nurse. All the knowledge in the world can’t really make a person change until they want to…or they have to. Until then, I think I just have to find a way to accept it and focus on myself, not be brought down by the negativity that surrounds me.

      Liked by 1 person

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