Compassion vs Empathy: What is the Difference?

Compassion and empathy are often substituted for one another, but they do not have the same meaning. Compassion means having sympathy and concern for someone else’s suffering along with wanting to go alongside them on their journey. Whereas empathy is defined more by an understanding and relating to the feelings of another person.

Let’s take a look at both:


To have compassion for someone means to show sympathy and concern for someone or something’s (i.e. a pet or an endangered species). Compassion is driven by wanting to make a change in that person’s life, standing along side them as they suffer and suffering along with them, and holding space for them as they go through a difficult time.

Compassion means being supportive in word, thoughts, and in action.

Words of comfort – compassion is shown in language by offering words of comfort. Have you ever attended a funeral and offered up condolences along with positive words of encouragement? That is compassion.

Compassion in thought – compassion is also shown by offering up effective listening. Letting someone know they are in your thoughts and prayers is a way of offering support and encouragement during their difficult period. Letting someone know you are thinking of them, praying for them, and holding space just to listen and be there for them is an act of compassion.

Compassion in action – Taking action steps by physically taking care of things while someone is experiencing difficulty in life shows compassion in action. For example, picking up your friend’s child from school while she is visiting her husband at the hospital is compassion in action. Taking care of the home, cooking a meal, making phone calls, and helping organize paperwork are all examples of compassion in action.


To have empathy for someone means you understand what they are going through – either through a relatable experience you have previously undergone or through an ability to feel what they are going through because of your own empathic superpowers.

Sharing thoughts and emotions with someone else is an example of empathy. Understanding how someone else is feeling is another. Empathy uses emotional intelligence to understand, feel, or relate to someone else’s feelings.

How to be More Compassionate

One of the best ways to become more compassionate is to start with yourself:

  • Think kinder, gentler thoughts when the inner critic tries to take over.
  • Take more compassionate actions toward yourself.
  • Tell yourself you are worthy of self-compassion and leave the guilt at the door.

Once compassion for yourself is a new habit, take on releasing that out to others. Once your compassion cup is full, you can then and only then share compassion with others.

How to be More Empathetic

If you find you are not the most empathetic person in the world and want to take on this characteristic, here are a few ways to become more empathetic:

  • Listen – listening without judgment, without the desire to respond, and without thinking a million other thoughts is a great way to take on being more empathetic.
  • Relate –  try to understand what it might feel like to be that person or to have that experience. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes goes a long way toward being more empathetic.
  • Be Real – show up as raw and vulnerable and you are on your way to being more empathetic. Letting your guard down allows someone else to enter.

These are the differences between compassion and empathy and how to implement more of each throughout the day. What are some of the ways you express your compassion and/or empathy?