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Empathy Vs Sympathy Or Apathy: What Empathy Is Not?

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

(Published on: Jun 21, 2016) It’s been said that many people might believe they are empathetic or they mostly demonstrate empathy. When in reality, they’re feeling sympathy.  Though, some are feeling outright apathy…right from the start.

What is the etymology of Empathy?

The psychologist Edward Titchener (1867–1927) introduced the term “empathy” in 1909 into the English language as the translation of the German term “Einfühlung” (or “feeling into”), a term that by the end of the 19th century was in German philosophical circles understood as an important category in philosophical aesthetics.

What Is Empath?

I was reading comments from a blogger post on an article about Empathy.  One sub-title: “Empathy Is A Gift.”  Referring to empathy feelings as a gift and distinguishing themselves as “empaths.”  I found it very enlightening.  In this post, I will be referring to Empathy NOT “empath” or “empath personality type.”

One noteworthy point from the article about the empath personality type, overall the comments seemed encouraging and flattering.  However, it struck me that, not every commentator was favorable.  Interesting that the very people who were gifted as Empaths, expressed how their gift had some very negative effects.  More than a few were plagued with anxiety, depression and even fear!  So where is there a balance?

One Empath said something like, let me paraphrase the important part: being an Empath is like absorbing every emotion and feeling. The physical, mental and emotional, she said, is like pain and is crippling.  She suffers tremendously.  Until she learned to protect herself from toxic people and avoid negativity.

I can agree, balance is the key. Not everyone will fall into the empath personality type.   

Nevertheless, we all will do well to show and have and FEEL empathy for each other.  We don’t have to have the Empath personality type to express EMPATHY.  There is no way to JUDGE [!] the depth on how you FEEL.  But there are a few basics that can help us learn.

So let’s look at Empathy in the simplest definition.  Can we separate it from sympathy?  Or Apathy?

Empathy vs. Sympathy

What is the difference between empathy and sympathy?

Here are two dictionary definitions from Merriam-Webster:


“the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another”


“the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another of either the past of present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”

I think empathy is different from sympathy.  I, as a blogger, want to believe I am an empathetic person. I have to be empathetic to be able to write my blog.  I write about feelings and I write what others may feel. I feel their pain.  I really am NOT empathetic “If” everything starts with “I”.

Wow, this is hard to do, even though in the paragraphs I forced the pronoun overuse of “I” to make a point. It can be difficult to apply, but it is essential to learn empathy.  It is not just changing our pronouns.

What (basically) is NOT Empathy?  

  • Being overly opinionated and demanding ~This Is Not Empathy.
  • Debating and arguing your personal POV (point of view) ~This Is Not Empathy.
  • Making someone/persuading someone’s POV (point of view) ~This Is Not Empathy.
  • Love to start every helpful sentence with “I”~This Is Not Empathy.
  • Always says yes, “Is a Yes man!”  or Yes person…Agrees to all perspectives–no matter what you say ~This Is Not Empathy.
  • NO! NO! you’re wrong even 1% of the time~This Is Not Empathy.

NOTE: There is nothing wrong with not being empathetic 100% of the time.  For the people that have that gift, they themselves, sometimes suffer.  BUT, we should be able to know what the difference is between Empathy and Sympathy and Apathy.  Empathy is fellow feeling and a tool to connect to someone on an interpersonal level that can offer hope and healing on a deeper level.

It suspends judgment, opinions, emotions (like anger and resentment). Empathy must overcome stereotypes. We need to have an ability to temporarily suspend our own opinions. To be able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

  • 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.

Okay, I know. I am only scratching the surface, hey, it’s a cartoon blog. What do you expect?…Is this some symptoms of bipolar or something??? No, but, I do want to hear from you…WHAT IS NOT empathy? Add onto What (basically) Is Not Empathy? 

 (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…


Attention Florida Peer and Advocates: 
Please help me share the Florida CLEAR Warm Line. Call 800 945 1355 – say it: 800 945 1355.  It rolls off the tongue. It is the CLEAR Warm Line staffed by Peer Specialists waiting to lend an ear.  Offering support for you from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. 7 days a week.



[!]Judge: Someone who shows empathy will avoid judging others.   
[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

Empathy Vs Sympathy Or Apathy: What Empathy Is Not?

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. (2020). Empathy Vs Sympathy Or Apathy: What Empathy Is Not?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Jan 2020
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