Sympathy, Empathy, and Compassion

Dr. Shane Sinclair

March 22, 2022

Sympathy, empathy, and compassion are words that have not only remained largely uncontested in society but are often used synonymously.  

In this illustrated video you will learn the important differences between these three forms of care and which one is most impactful to those that you interact with.  Learn about the power and enduring impact of compassion for the benefit of those you come in contact with and yourself. After a decade of research with individuals, ranging in age from 8 to 92, who are all too familiar with the debilitating effects of suffering and the transforming power of compassion, we have learned some important lessons.

As illustrated in this animated video, sympathy is a pity-based response to a distressing situation that is characterized by a lack of relational understanding and the self-preservation of the observer--it goes nowhere and does nothing for the person in suffering. Empathy, involves the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes, to not only acknowledge suffering but to feel with the person and attempt to understand them in the process--an upgrade from sympathy but not without limitations--including being fairly conditional.

Compassion, takes empathy to the next level, by not simply 'doing unto others as you would have them do unto you' but 'doing unto others as they would want done unto themselves'. Most importantly, unlike sympathy or empathy, compassion requires action--compassion involves not simply observing and feeling for the person in suffering but taking action to alleviate a persons suffering.

The original open-access research article associated with this video is:

Sinclair S., Beamer K., Hack T.,McClement S., Raffin Bouchal S., Chochinov H., & Hagen N. (2016). Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion: Palliative Care Patients’ Understandings, Experiences and Preferences. Palliative Medicine.31(5):437-447. Doi:

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