There are many reasons why you might want to learn how to be sympathetic. You might have a hard time relating to your partner when they’re upset. Maybe you have children who are going through a rough time, and you find it hard to comfort them?
Regardless of your reason, it’s important to know how to be sympathetic because it generally increases your quality of life. When you’re sympathetic, you find it easier to relate to people and comfort them during their time of need.
What is Sympathy?
Sympathy is when you feel bad or upset for someone else when they’re going through something.
For example, when someone suffers the loss of a loved one, a sympathetic person will find it easy to comfort that individual and make them feel better even though the world seems like it’s crashing down around them.
As you can see, being sympathetic is an important life skill to possess. So why are some people more sympathetic than others?
Why Do You Find It Hard to Be Sympathetic?
There are many reasons why you might struggle with sympathy. Maybe you’re secretly rooting against that person, and it makes you feel good to see them struggle. That might sound rough, but it’s possible that deep down, you never wanted to see anything good happen for that person.
On a different note, you might have a hard time feeling sympathetic to a person who you simply don’t relate to. Maybe what they’re going through doesn’t resonate with you, and you can’t imagine going through the same thing yourself.
For example, let’s say you have a friend who is an athlete, and they’re competing in an important game that will weigh heavily on whether or not they’re successful.
They end up losing that game, underperforming, and not reaping the rewards that a good performance would have provided.
If you’re not an athlete and you’ve never cared much for sports, you might find it hard to be sympathetic because you don’t care about what they’re going through. You don’t understand it, it doesn’t relate to you, and as a result, you may think they’re overreacting a bit.
You need to learn how to be sympathetic even if you don’t understand what the other person is going through. Sometimes this comes naturally while others need to work a little harder at it.
What Does It Mean to Be Sympathetic?
Some might think that sympathy is as simple as saying you’re sorry when something bad happens to someone. It goes much deeper than that.
Sympathy can mean a lot of things, and there isn’t a one size fits all solution to any problem. The important thing to understand is that you need to make yourself available to the person in need. Sometimes all they need is a shoulder to cry on and two ears to listen.
Overall, sympathy is rooted in good intentions. If you don’t have the right plans for that person, you’ll never be able to be sympathetic.
In some cases, you may not even agree with why the other person is upset. Our day to day lives are so busy that we often lack the time and mental resources to think about others as much as we should.
Make sure you’re always listening to someone in need.
Why Should You Be More Sympathetic?
You might be wondering if this is completely necessary. Why can’t you simply continue your life as it was without sympathy and see how it goes?
First, if you’re here reading this article, something has happened in your life that leads you down this path. You’ve decided that you need to learn how to be sympathetic because you want to be able to relate better to people in need.
There are many benefits of sympathy.
Sympathy isn’t only for the person who is hurt or grieving; it helps you as well. Everything we do in our lives is built on cause and effect. Something happened to this person, so that is the cause. The effect is, we can choose to be sympathetic to them or not.
When we’re sympathetic, we feel positive, content, and fulfilled. When someone comes to you and says, “thank you so much for listening to me, you really helped me when I needed it most;” that makes you feel good, right?
In a world that is always full of negativity and sadness, you have an opportunity to become a light at the end of a dark tunnel for as many people as you want in your life. It all starts here with you learning how to be sympathetic.
Also, keep in mind the cause and effect point. You never know when life will turn and force you down a dark path. During that time, you might call upon someone to be sympathetic towards you, and if you weren’t there for them, they might feel resentful towards you.
It’s cliche, but you should always treat others as you want to be treated. You never know when the tables may turn.
How to Be Sympathetic
Now let’s talk about some actionable steps you can take in your life to be more sympathetic to not only someone in need but everyone in your life in general. Everyone desires someone who relates to them, and that is the first key point in being more sympathetic.
Relate to the Person
Let’s do a quick little exercise here. As you’re reading this, I want you to imagine that someone close to you just died.
How do you feel?
Do you feel sad? Maybe angry or helpless? Now imagine how someone else feels when that happens to them. Maybe you’ve felt this in your life in the past, but the very thought brings back those harsh emotions.
This right here is the number one key to becoming more sympathetic. When you can learn to relate to what the person is feeling, you can quickly learn how to understand them more, which leads to sympathy.
You need to create similarities between you and that person. If someone is talking to you about a best friend they just lost, take your mind back to when you lose someone close to you. Feel what it felt like, hear what it sounded like, and see what it looked like.
Now come back to reality and see this person right in front of you going through the same exact thing. You’ll create a strong connection, and you’ll find it so much easier to understand because you’ll realize that you’ve both gone through the same thing.
Listen First; Speak Later
When you’re trying to show sympathy to another person, sometimes all they need is a pair of ears. Have you ever heard someone say they just wish they had someone to talk to?
Less is more when trying to be sympathetic, and the last thing you want to come off as arrogant when trying to show sympathy. If you end up talking more than the person in need, you’re not doing the best you can.
For example, if someone came to you talking about how they recently failed out of college, and they don’t know if they’ll be able to go back because they don’t have any money. Your first instinct might be to put a wall up and think that they’re there to ask you for money.
Slow down and simply listen to what they have to say. This person likely wants someone to talk to so they can feel better. Talking themselves through the issue might help them realize a solution without you having to do anything.
How many times have you gotten violently upset about something only to realize in an hour that you were overlooking to solution the entire time?
When we’re upset, grieving, or sad, we tend to dwell on our problems rather than look for a way out of the situation. You may be able to be this person’s way out, and all you need to do is listen. Let them vent, get out everything they need to say, and then you can offer your opinions.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
While this is easier said than done, it’s critically important that you learn how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when trying to show sympathy to them. If you can’t understand what they’re going through, you’ll never be able to make them feel better.
This works best if it’s something you’ve never dealt with on your own.
Ask yourself questions like:
- How would you feel in that situation?
- How would your partner feel about that?
- How would you react?
- What would be the number one thing to make you feel better?
As mentioned in the previous section, you might find that all you would need is to talk to someone or get some feedback. If that’s the case, then that is what you should do in this situation.
The only way you can find the best solution for being more sympathetic towards someone is to feel what they’re feeling, see what they’re seeing, and hear what they’re hearing. During times of extreme sadness and grief, we often let our minds wander to places we never want to go.
As someone who isn’t experiencing that same level of sadness, it can be difficult to relate. Only when you put yourself in their shoes can you truly show sympathy to that person.
Become More Aware
Sympathy comes from the heart, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t fake it. The person on the other end will quickly know if you’re faking sympathy for them, and it may only make the situation worse.
One of the most important things you can do is focus entirely on the person in need. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by things like phones, tv, internet, pets, or anything that may come between you and that person.
Focus intently on them and acknowledge every little thing they do. Pay attention to any tears they may have and look into their eyes, so you can feel what they’re feeling.
When we’re sympathetic, we almost make someone else’s pain our own, and that is the key to providing a healing touch to someone who needs it the most.
Becoming aware of yourself is also helpful with this. Some of us prefer to repress feelings and stuff them deep down where no one will ever find them. In this situation, showing sympathy for another person may even help you deal with some feelings that you’ve kept tucked away.
When this happens, it becomes magic. The two of you are feeling the same thing, you’re relating to each other, you’re fully aware of the situation, and you’re both sharing an unbreakable bond that can only end in healing.
It’s hard to show someone sympathy if you feel like nothing ever goes right for you. Sometimes we tend to dwell on our own problems, which makes it difficult for us to let anyone else in.
You likely know someone like this in your life currently. Anytime you have a problem, and you want someone to talk to, they have a worse problem.
They use phrases like:
- Is that all?
- I know, believe me
- That’s nothing, how about this
If that sounds anything like you, there is some work here. You need to try and not dwell on your problems because it is getting in the way of your relating to others and showing sympathy.
When someone comes to you with a problem, they don’t expect you to tell them how you have a worse problem. Then you end up taking over the conversation, and you both sit there dwelling in sadness with no healing occurring.
Think of how blessed and grateful you are for the life you have. Look at all the great things around you and try harder to dwell on the good aspects of life because they’re always more abundant than the bad things.
When you focus on the positives, you’ll find it easier to sympathize with someone who is going through something because you won’t feel like they’re bringing your mood down. You’ll look at it as an opportunity to help them and improve their quality of life.
Lastly, if you are grateful for the things you have in life, you’ll find it easier to show that individual that what they’re going through isn’t as bad as it seems.
One of the main keys to showing sympathy is feeling better than the person in distress. If you feel at the current point that your life is better than theirs, you’ll find it easier to show them the sympathy they need.
Understand the Importance of Communication
While we’ve focused a lot on the fact that you don’t need to say anything to someone to show sympathy, there are things you can say and do to help them. It’s all about timing and what you say.
When you’re listening, and you’ve determined that now would be a good time to step in, you can share relatable stories of when something similar happened to you.
The best example relates to parenting struggles. Let’s say your friend is having trouble with their teenager who is acting rebellious and getting into trouble.
If you’ve already parented a child through that stage of life, you might have wisdom to offer, and that might be why they came to you in the first place.
For another example, let’s say that the other person recently lost their mother. You may have lost your mom as well, and that is why they came to you. Use that platform to share how you coped with the loss and how it made you a better person.
Explain to them how the pain will subside, and you’ll still have all the great memories you had together.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t always have to be good news that provides sympathy, either. You can tell them the truth. Tell them that the loss of your mother still bothers you every day and you think of her all the time. It’s okay to be honest and truthful. That is how you create an authentic bond with the grieving individual.
Use The Correct Body Language
An important and overlooked aspect of having sympathy is your body language. What are you doing with your body when someone comes to you for sympathy?
- Are you looking at your phone?
- Are you doing work?
- Are you listening to something else?
- Are you paying attention to a different person?
Or are you 100% dialed in on what that person is saying? In addition to paying attention, you can say a lot and show sympathy without saying anything at all.
What do I mean?
You can grab a person’s hand and rub the top of it with your thumb as they’re talking. You can rub their back while they’re crying. You could pat them on the shoulder as they’re looking down at something that upsets them.
There are many opportunities for you to show sympathy to a person when you don’t know what to say. Sometimes the grieving person is going through something so severe that you may not know what to say.
It’s good to know that you don’t have to feel uncomfortable in this situation. You can say everything you need to without having to say anything at all.
What Is the Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy?
While both of these words are often used interchangeably, it helps to understand the slight difference between the two.
Empathy refers to a more deep connection where you truly understand the individual, and you feel their pain. Sympathy is a more superficial feeling of consoling someone without feeling what they’re going through at a deeper level.
It helps to have empathy in all of these situations, but it’s not always possible. Let’s take a look at how the two differ and why you might want to have empathy rather than sympathy.
Look at Your Perspective
How well do you know the person you’re trying to be sympathetic towards? If they’re a close friend or family member, it is your duty to have empathy because they would likely offer the same to you.
If they’re an active part of your life, you should have no problem feeling for them in this situation, so it’s important to take a look at your perspective and make sure you’re doing everything you can from them.
Understand Your Own Emotions
I talked briefly about this in the beginning, but it’s important. You want to take a good look at yourself and think about how you feel regarding this situation.
Examples help, so here is a great example of what I mean.
Let’s say that you and another person whom you don’t know that well were competing for a big promotion at work. The promotion involves a steep pay raise with better hours and a plush office.
You get the promotion, and the other person doesn’t. You would feel some sort of way, wouldn’t you?
You’d feel like you deserve that promotion, and they didn’t, so that’s why you got it.
Since you’re feeling this way, it might be challenging for you to show sympathy to the person who didn’t get it. You may find it hard to put yourself in their shoes because you’re currently running on such a high because of your big win. It’s still important to act humble.
As a result, there is a huge disconnect between what you’re feeling and what the other person is feeling.
It helps to identify what you’re feeling and understand it before you try to be sympathetic. You can still offer sympathy even if you didn’t like the person that much. You would have a much harder time being empathetic because you can’t feel what they’re feeling right now.
Learning to Respect Others Differences
In some situations, you might think the person got what they deserved. Maybe you have a friend who was regularly having an affair. You didn’t approve of this, but you, of course, kept it a secret because he/she is your friend, and you have a bond.
Their partner finds out and kicks them out, so now they’re staying at your house for a few days. You’re trying to be empathetic to your friend because their life is crumbling, but at the same time, you find it hard because you feel what they did wasn’t right.
Even though this is an extreme situation, they’re still your friend, they’re still a person, and they still deserve sympathy during this hard time.
It’s important to understand that you don’t need to agree with everything the person did to provide sympathy or even empathy. You can use this situation as an opportunity to help your friend have sympathy for the partner he/she just cheated on. You can help them feel what their broken-hearted partner is feeling.
Sometimes it’s best to keep your differences where they belong rather than letting them get in the way of healing.
Be Willing to Help
Sympathy often involves an emotional detachment, whereas empathy involves feeling what the other person is feeling. Sometimes you need to assess how willing you are to help the person in need.
Maybe they’ve rubbed you the wrong way in the past, or you simply don’t like them. What do you do when they come to you for sympathy? Do you tell them the truth about how you feel, or do you offer them an empty-hearted pat on the back before you go about your day?
This factor is a big difference between sympathy and empathy. Those who are empathetic will be willing to do whatever it takes to make the person feel better. Sometimes compassion can feel empty as if you’re only doing it because it seems like the right thing to do, not because you care.
How to Blend the Two?
Now that you understand the difference between sympathy and empathy, you want to be able to blend them so you can always provide what is necessary for the situation.
You don’t always need to be sympathetic, and you don’t always need to be empathetic, but you need one or the other.
When you’re dealing with a stranger or acquaintance who is going through a rough time, you can use sympathy to reassure them that everything will be okay. You can offer them a helping hand with something, but there is not much you can do beyond that.
If a close friend or family member comes to you, this is where you need to be empathetic. Give them the time they need to feel better. Offer your assistance to them in any way possible, and make sure they have your full attention.
This situation is where you want to feel what they’re feeling. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, picture what they see, feel the tears flowing from their eyes.
Here is where you need to implement everything we’ve learned in this guide.
Learning how to be sympathetic is not easy, and it’s something that many people struggle with doing. A lot of it comes down to patience and time. We’re all caught up in our lives, which makes it difficult to give anyone the time of day.
Make sure to use everything you’ve learned and make a positive difference in your life and the lives around you.