A film by RSA Animate.

Empathy and sympathy are not just two different approaches to confronting the emotional challenges of others; they are diametrically opposite responses in many important ways. Sympathy places another's problems at a distance from us, places us in a position of superiority, and "drives separation", says the film's narrator, Dr. Brené Brown. Empathy, on the other hand, requires that one internalize the feelings of another. That shared experience drives interpersonal connection, she says. "What makes things better is connection."

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  • Brian Kearsey

    Good job on empathy but poor job on sympathy. I agree that empathy is more positive and fuels connection, but the callous examples of "at least..." in the video is anything but true sympathy. Off the cuff, I'd say sympathy is "mere" pity and can sometimes encourage someone who is wallowing in victimhood to keep wallowing instead of helping them find a solid foundation to either see their situation more clearly or, if they are indeed a victim, accepting it and beginning to recover. Empathy is just really connecting with the other person without necessarily re-enforcing their perspective on the situation.

  • Edward

    This was the stupidest video I have seen this year. I cannot disagree more and this video illustrated the "sympathetic" person being an absolute dick.

  • Julia

    It's funny to read the comments on here from people who disagree with the video on the part of sympathy. Sympathy is still caring about the person - it's just not expressing it in a way that is helpful to the person. Empathy is connecting to that person, whether you have experienced that problem or not. The real ticket to the video was, "Whew. I don't even know what to say. I'm just glad you told me." A sympathetic person never says that. A sympathetic person just says "Sorry." Zero connection. Thanks, Brené Brown. A game-changing video.

  • David

    The most influential video on my practice and profession this year, I'm a critical care physician. Sharing with other. Really makes a strong, immediately applicable, practical point.

  • Cole

    Not inspired as much as uncovering an aspect of both words (empathy & sympathy). The mutually exclusive aspects of both words helps me clearify where I'm coming from when encountering a feelings intense conversation. I don't want to drive those feelings in the other person's conversation away! That would be counter to wanting to 'help' him/her. Thus EMPATHY not sympathy🙂

  • Rosa

    I have learned that empathy is not about be polite nor lovely, it is about listen carefully to understand others feelings and perspective. I can disagree with the other person and still be empathetic.

  • John

    I could not disagree more with this video. It makes a complete mockery of sympathy, and gets everything exactly wrong. Empathy does not connect you with another person. It connects you with a misfortune. It is only when empathy leads to sympathy (real sympathy, not the sympathy caricatured in this video), that the connection is made with another person. A masochist can empathize without sympathizing. I will never be able to empathize with the pains of child birth, while I can, and morally should, sympathize.

  • Abby

    I am empathetic in my heart and mind but let me fix it mouth get in the way

  • Gwen

    For me, this is an important reason why there's so much conflict between black and white Americans. Unless you've traverse a journey, starting in slavery to our present compromised state, it's hard to feel that connection. Yes, many are sympathetic, but it would be hard to understand its crippling affect.

  • Adam

    Now I know I am empathetic

  • aimeega

    My husband and I frequently debate empathy vs. sympathy. From his perspective you can't be empathetic if you haven't experienced the problem yourself. I completely disagree but have found it difficult to describe why. Connection...that's why. Thank you.

  • daniece.olandria

    simple and clear ♥♥♥

  • Kelley

    While there are some very good points on empathy, this is not an accurate description of sympathy at all. Empathy is about understanding how others are feeling because you have been in the same situation and experienced it yourself or you can put yourself in the other persons shoes, so to speak. Sympathy is showing you care about someone and the situation he/she is going through. Sympathetic phrases do not start with "At least ....".

  • Anthony

    Empathy is about 'understanding' which may be a better way than to say 'internalize the feeling of another'

  • Eileen

    Excellent, simple and demonstrative.

  • m.najaf mughal

    he comes down in dark place with her means he wanted to involve heartly that inspired me.

  • Renee

    WOW this illustrates empathy perfectly -- thank you

  • Yvonne

    Being empathetic allows one to be in the moment to share with another's distress and this is the greatest help one can give.

  • Ingrid

    Simple and eloquent. Thank you!

  • Gloria Magarelli

    Great visual and verbal exchange on the difference between sympathy and empathy. The video makes it easier to remember. Thanks

  • Bonne

    This shined the light on truth, and let us laugh at ourselves at the same time

  • Emmanuel Ale

    the content of this video is so enlightening and psychologically oriented

  • Amy

    The fluffy bear has empathy and the skinny elk(?) does not. Intentional?

  • NGW

    This need to be taught at an early age- very educational video for all ages

  • Dee

    clear and concise explanation. I will use in staff meetings.

  • Pradeep Kumar

    What inspired you about this video? Absolutely wonderful way to explain the difference !

  • mags

    how easy it is to misinterpretate different words and actions

  • Myra

    simple very clear easy to understand

  • Frank Nduu

    This video is both simple and meaningfull. Thank you for inspirations

  • divina

    very good video......and i think its too difficult for me to understand if it should be empathy or sympathy ..sounds no difference at all to me only how u deal with it....should be possible to be empathized or sympathized?

  • Alberto Celiz

    This video is great!!!

  • June Adamio

    Great reminder about being in the moment with another person in the midst of whatever is troubling them, not trying to fix things. As a nurse I'm used to fixing things. Sometimes just listening and being present is the most powerful thing we can do for another.

  • tom carpenter

    I am starting up an organization to help people serve others - called Serving Others Forward Together www.servingothersforward.org Would it be possible to add this video to my site (under resources) in order to help inspire people? I gladly give full credit. thanks

  • Joshuel Patterson

    Can we have more please? :)

  • Tony

    It's honest simplicity. It may not be easy to shift from sympathy to empathy when I'm in the midst of things and now I have a structure that will support me. Thank you Brene

  • Nwriter

    That such a profound message was said in such simple manner.In fact i just wrote a research paper that says exactly the same, but in a very philosophical way.

  • boat

    I really enjoyed this video. I agree that sympathy somehow does not seem sincere or connected to another person - it seems like a brush off. I am looking for empathy. Empathy with regard to grief and with regard to some undiagnosed health problems. I don't just want to hear "oh, other people have been there. At least, you are alive." Thank you for this video and I hope for more.

  • Kimstewartebo

    Loved this video, i'll be very conscious of not consoling people with 'At least...' from now on!

  • Paul

    Great video! Empathy is like eye sight for the mind. Once you can see, you can't believe how you have been blind to others' worries, pain, angst, aspirations, hopes etc. BTW, if you look into the eyes of an animal (a dog or a cow or a turkey), then you can relate with them too. Likely you will not touch meat after that!

  • Gerry O'Connor

    Connection is so important because when you try to “fix” the difficulty it implies that the person is broken. When you try to solve the problem it can lead people to feel more powerless. Connection accepts where people are at this moment in time. Gerry O'Connor

  • Skirnir Hamilton

    Why can't one be emphatic and still try to help? Being empathetic and then watching that person struggle and nothing get better, empathy seems so worthless.

  • hsk

    The empathiser is not trying to fix the problem, just connect with the person.

  • SoNDEA

    Everything - I luv the visual imaging along w the audio teaching.

  • js

    Always for empathy.

  • dibyadut ray

    I learnt it from u. Benefited from ur blog.

  • Gregg DesElms

    People thinking you're being sympathetic is what makes them upset if whatever they're going through hasn't happened to you, yet you dare to tell them you understand. Your actually being empathetic is what makes them wrong. __________________________________ Gregg L. DesElms Napa, California USA gregg at greggdeselms dot com Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi. Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  • patricia

    The realisation that what others see in me as 'TOO MUCH' when I can empathise, is ok and I am very ok with this now that it is in picture format and I can share it on FB. Its a pity that too many people dont trust someone like me, but it ALWAYS makes me feel honoured when someone shares how they are feeling when it is deep and I, having known and still go through very lonley times, recognise it in others and feel less 'the only one suffering'xx:)

  • katherine

    To think before I open my mouth and be sure I'm not being judgemental.

  • Demetrius

    I don't think I have ever seen anything so concise but incredibly clear on a topic

  • rob porter

    Thank you. I loved everything about this. As a follower of the 3 principles and a former teacher, I think all kids could see this in school to help their parents on a path of understanding.

  • John Hill Jr

    My wife and I have bin taking Dhamma(Dharmma)classes and classes on negative and positive emotions. In these classes, we have had discussions on the difference between them. Dr. Brene Brown's discussion and the animation video really capsulized the meaning of each more clearly for us.

  • Barbara Peters

    I know what is missing now, when I walk away and feel worse than I did when I started. I try to be Empathetic, but must admit I too fall short, at times. This clearly shows the difference. I would never want someone to feel that I was not Empathetic to their experience.

  • Marcia Myers

    I admit that I did not know the difference between empathy and sympathy. I definitely fall into the group that is empathetic. But sometimes being as empathetic as I am I cause myself angst. Does anybody else experience this?

  • Lynda Schofield

    The first thing I realized was that I truly didn't know the difference between the two. It was eye-opening and I am so very grateful for this new knowledge. In the different areas where I come in contact with people, this is important knowledge I think I can be more effective in the future. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful video.

  • Kristin Pedemonti

    Simply Listening is powerful indeed. So is a touch, whether a hand on the shoulder or a HUG, it can go a long way to helping. Thank you for sharing! HUG

  • Judy Barnett

    Some folks can be sympathetic but empathetic? The average person finds it easy to show sympathy, i.e., 'I'm so sorry . . . . Empathy is an emotion that's hard to be taught. So many folks aren't able to put him/her-self in another person's place. It's easy to say, 'I know just how you feel.' Others cannot know precisely how you feel because all situations are different in some way and therefore it's a disservice, albeit well-intentioned)to say that.

  • Ana Paula

    I hear a lot of negative comments on how much I care and feel touched by people. ..But it's me, and I don't think that being kind and an empathy can be considered a weakness as some people stated to me..makes me sad those comments but I keep quiet and get ill by..kindness and empathy are a virtue and a gift. If there were more people like us maybe the burdens in life would be more bearable to carry. Have a good day and thanks for the animation it's brilliant!

  • Carla Mannes

    I am in my last semester of Grad school at Arizona State University, taking a Social Empathy course taught by Professor Elizabeth Segal, a leading researcher on 'empathy'. I am learning how much I don't know about empathy and empathic response. What a profound video.. Please share any other information or studies on empathy you can. Thank you!

  • Morgana Morgaine

    You know what I loved best about this? The animation with the education piece--I saw this and others like it being used in Medical schools, Law schools, all the helping professions and oh yes, all the rest of us from kindergarten on up! Thanks for such creativity! Morgana Morgaine

  • Patti

    Oh, my goodness… I love Brene Brown's voice, and the addition of the incredible animation is just stunning… I have emailed this to as many people as I can think of… 'I don't even know what to say right now… and I'm so glad you told me,' may be the most brilliant words ever spoken to someone who is suffering… I am in awe of the whole way this was put together… thank you, thank you, thank you...

  • Karen

    I am inspired by this video because I would like to see this definition of empathy practised in all medical fields, especially with front line medical workers.

  • Thema

    I was inspired to not bombard people with responses beginning with "At least" or " Its not as bad as" instead as Alex said, I'll just listen and provide comfort if needed.

  • magz

    very powerful love it wish more people would show empathy more and more the world should show more love and i guess everyone would feel the same

  • Oley

    Quite Simply Brilliant!

  • Alex

    To listen an feel just try be there help

  • Liz

    That is absolutely brilliant. Love the demonstration of silver lining.

  • Linda Eng

    The pure human connection- and How I felt soo much empathy just watching this video-made me laugh and cry- well done❤️😉

  • Ruth

    I am reading Brene Brown's book, Daring Greatly. If this touched you ( as it did me), dare to read Her book. She is enlightening me!

  • Susan Henderson

    It's direct simplicity. I work as a social worker in the medical field, I find it difficult to be around my co-workers who do not seem to get where the patients are coming from. There is a superficiality when the "care" in healthcare is clothed in sympathy as opposed to empathy. The comments from others about the need for this in our public schools is well taken, but our children did not develop our consumer based society, they have been brought into it. I think this should be shown to corporate board rooms, and leaders at all levels. Actually, lets raise $ to show it as a commercial during prime TV events - Superbowl, Oscars???

  • Laura

    You'll laugh.... but this connected with me because I just watched Jay Leno say goodbye after 22 years and I relived the unexpectedly sad ending of a long, precious career where coworkers had become like family ... I didn't see it coming, or going.

  • Susan

    I agree with Randy.....powerful! I wish this were able to be shown in our public schools.

  • Chet

    At the very root of what we are - HUMANs - we carry a basic need to connect. Empathy is connecting with others by trying to retune our frequency to theirs. A very good illustration using one of my favorite characters: Winnie the Pooh. So much to learn simply by observing nature and what is of Nature!

  • Randy

    Damn, that's powerful

  • Sandra

    This helped me understand the differences between empathy and sympathy a lot better. Thank you Dr. Brene Brown.

  • Tej Krishen

    It is a great video. It aroused a great feeling in me to do more in the society around.

  • Alexandra Pappas

    The simplicity of the analogies ..the specific examples of caring and sharing.. the stating that he didn't even know how to respond he was just glad that he told him and then giving a hug: all of these things inspired me. Also including the difference between sympathy as a distant emotion that doesn't really touch the hurt person. It is a great and humorous way to tell a serious message.

  • Diana

    This is a film that should be shown in schools, children in the USA are taught consumption rather than compassion. Even I "got" this one! LOVE IT!

  • Page 1

  • Dr. Brown studies the ways we make personal connections with each other. Watch her TED talks on "The Power of Vulnerability" and "Listening to Shame."
  • Consider the notion that we are hard-wired for empathy.
  • The next time you find yourself feeling sorry for someone, try to shift your reaction from sympathy to empathy. Ask yourself: how are they feeling and when have I felt this way also?

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