Mind 9 min read

Is There A Difference Between Compassion Vs Empathy?

by Mindvalley April 24, 2020

Quite often, compassion and empathy are used interchangeably. However, that’s a disservice to both words. Their definitions may seem similar, but they are not the same. Here, we’ll explain the key differences between compassion vs empathy to help increase your emotional intelligence. And, you’ll learn how Mindvalley can help you do this!

What Is Compassion?


While empathy allows you to walk in another person’s shoes, compassion when you respond emotionally to another person’s plight with the desire to help.

This emotion typically comes up when you see another person suffering. So, people who are compassionate feel the need to impact the world around them in positive ways.

According to researchers, compassion is made up of 5 key elements:

  • Recognizing another’s suffering
  • Understanding that everyone suffers
  • Having feelings for another’s suffering
  • Dealing with uncomfortable feelings
  • Feeling compelled to act or alleviate the suffering

An empathic person may cry with the person experiencing a loss. A sympathetic person may send a condolence card if something unfortunate happens. Compassion, however, compels someone to do something to alleviate the other person’s suffering.

In that example, it may be offering to help take care of the family, make arrangements, or hold them while they cry. People full of compassion can’t stand by and do nothing.

Compassion vs passion

Compassion and passion may rhyme, but they’re intrinsically different.

We know compassion has to do with helping other people.

Passion, on the other hand, is an intense feeling towards people, things, or activities you like or love.

These feelings are generally internal. But they may manifest outside the body in the form of energy and time put into the things you’re passionate about. For example, passionate marriage and passion for a hobby are different extensions for a self-defining person or activity.

So, what’s the main difference?

Compassion compels you to dive into another person’s environment and offer help, without concern for yourself or the cost.

Passion doesn’t necessarily inspire you to do something for another.

Think of the words “passion” and “compassion.” Passion is singular and internal. However, the “com” in compassion involves another being. But can you feel both passion and compassion at the same time? The answer is, yes.

Imagine being passionate about rescuing animals. Now imagine that passion leads you to volunteer your time and energy to a local rescue organization.

Having an intense feeling and the motivation to act can be a powerful combination.

The world is full of passionate people. There’s no shortage of intense feelings for work, family, and hobbies. But extending those passions outside of yourself may be a different matter.

compassion vs sympathy

What Is Empathy?


Empathy is typically defined as being aware of someone’s emotions and trying to understand how they feel.

Empathetic people experience the feelings of those around them, whether they are human or animal. You can say that empaths are emotional sponges to their environment.

Empathy vs sympathy

Empathy is can sometimes confused with sympathy, but there is a difference between the two.

Both empathetic and sympathetic people care about other people’s suffering. But the similarities generally stop there. Empathetic people take it one step further.

While sympathetic people offer understanding and comfort from the outside, empathetic people understand others because they feel the experience themselves. Empaths actually experience another being’s feelings.

Sometimes viewed as overly sensitive, empathetic people don’t simply watch from the outside. They feel everything around them, sometimes to the point of overstimulation and exhaustion.

It’s not all negative, though. Empathetic people also feel the positive feelings of those around them, like happiness, excitement, and joy.

what is empathy

What Is The Difference Between Compassion Vs Empathy?


Now, let’s get down to the difference between empathy and compassion.

Both are powerful feelings that can bring happiness and well-being. Empathetic feelings allow you to feel what another being feels. But compassion includes the desire to help.

Take this example, for instance: When you see a homeless person on the street, what’s your first instinct?

Do you put a donation in their cup or buy them a meal? Or maybe rail against the injustice of the system and move on?

One describes compassion. The other describes empathy.

What makes compassion and empathy different is the active component. Whereas empathy is a very internal feeling, compassion moves outwards.

This is the difference between feeling heartbroken when you see another person crying, and giving that same person a comforting hug.

Can you feel both empathy and compassion at the same time? Of course!

Think of seeing someone living on the streets. You may have past experiences with that and seeing it affects you deeply. It may even bring you to tears to see someone brought that low.

Empathetic people feel another person’s feelings intensely. And take those feelings on as their own.

Those empathetic feelings can turn into compassion, though, when you take action. Taking the step outside of yourself to buy that person food or give them a blanket puts empathy into action.

All of a sudden, it isn’t just a feeling that you own. And you’re putting action into practice.

The Final Thought

Turn virtues into a good character.

– Jon Butcher, Author of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Program

What’s it like to be more empathic versus compassionate? There are easy, evidence-based exercises out there to be more empathetic or more compassionate. It just starts with practice.

Is there a “right” emotion when it comes to compassion versus empathy?

If empathy is the great connector, then compassion is the bridge between emotion and action.


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You can have the most expensive, fastest car in the world, but if you set off without a clear idea of where you’re going, then the rusty old Beatle with a map and compass will beat you there every time.

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Have you experienced instances where empathy and compassion collided? What did you do? Share with us in the comments section below.

by Mindvalley
Mindvalley is creating a global school that delivers transformational education for all ages. Powered by community. Fueled by fun. We are dedicated to ensuring that humans live happier, healthier, and more fulfilled lives by plugging in the gaps that conventional education failed to teach us. We do this by organising real-world events around the world and producing world-class quality programmes in several areas of transformation, including mind, body, and performance.

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