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Empathy Vs Sympathy Or Apathy: Can Adults Learn Empathy?

Can Adults Learn Empathy?

“The best and most beautiful things in life cannot be seen, not touched, but are felt in the heart.” (Helen Keller)

Can Adults Learn Empathy? YES, we are born with Empathy, it is inherently human to be empathetic…We are all Empath’s at heart. I feel it is our life’s negative experiences that chip away at Empathy…pushing it down deep inside us.

Okay, we know from part one of this post basically, What Empathy Is Not? Yes for some, it might be harder to tap into it so quickly.  For some of us, it turns into sympathy. Still for Others with so many negative experiences in life, some situations could take on a feeling of Apathy.

Unfortunately for many of us, our entire life is bombarded with negative imagery. We become numb and apathy sets in.  We are taught through life to judge…everything and everyone!  Judging (how we look, how others look, who is smarter, faster, better)…Many can be very criticizing and overly critical sometimes with overinflated opinions.  All lacking empathy.

For me, as a person living with the many fun symptoms of bipolar, I want to keep giving my empathic continuum lots of exercise and use.

Here are a few ways to LEARN and practice empathy today:

Adapted from psychotherapist Susan Donnelly [vi]The Many Faces of Empathy

  • Empathy requires that we listen.
  • Empathy requires that we suspend our own judgments and emotions about a situation or person.
  • Empathy requires attempts to walk other shoes (walk a mile in someone else’s shoes).
  • Empathy is where resonance really starts to hum. (frequency is the same).
  • Empathy recognizes there is six degrees of separation. (we are all connected).
  • Empathy is compassion and involves a felt desire to alleviate the suffering of another. 
  • Empathy is Compassion requiring us to take a bit of another’s suffering.
  • Empathy is carrying it around in our own heart, possibly for a long time.


Empathy is:

Compassion can also be challenging in that it may call us to confront the causes of another’s suffering, which can include abuse, bigotry, or unjust social and economic structures. Compassion begins with empathic connection, and carries on with committed action. ~ Susan Donnelly [vi]


  • Empathy [i]: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings.
  • Sympathy [ii]: the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune.
  • Apathy [iii]: the feeling of not having much emotion or interest : an apathetic state.

(Part 1|Part 2|Part 3)

Mental Health Humor and psychological disorder humor and cartoons by Chato Stewart
Mental Health Humor by Chato Stewart

Mental Health Humor

Classroom: Empathy 101: Apathy 10?

Empathy 101 Door Sign: If you feel my sadness enter…

Apathy 10? Door Sign: WhatEver


Caption: Can You Learn Empathy? Or Like, Do you care, Whatever…





[i]Empathy Definition © 2015. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved on June 10, 2016, from
[ii]Sympathy Definition © 2015. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved on June 10, 2016, from
[iii]Apathy Definition © 2015. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved on June 10, 2016, from

APA Reference
[vi]Donnelly, S. (2014). The Many Faces of Empathy. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 23, 2016, from


Empathy Vs Sympathy Or Apathy: Can Adults Learn Empathy?

Chato Stewart

Chato Stewart has a mission, to draw and use humor as a positive tool to live, to cope with the debilitating effects symptoms of mental illness. Chato Stewart is a Mental Health Hero and Advocate. Recovery Peer Specialist board-certified in Florida. Chato is the artist behind the cartoons series Mental Health Humor, Over-Medicated, and The Family Stew - seen here in his blog posts. The cartoons are drawn from his personal experience of living with bipolar disorder (and other labels).

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APA Reference
Stewart, C. (2018). Empathy Vs Sympathy Or Apathy: Can Adults Learn Empathy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Apr 2018
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