Do you know the difference between pity and empathy? I had an interesting conversation with one of my teenage clients about this and was blown away by her insight and wisdom. It always hurts my heart when I hear a teenager say “ I hate myself” and this client said that to me a result of being bullied in grade school and never telling anyone about it. When I asked her why she kept this a secret, she replied “ I didn’t want anyone’s pity.” I think all of us have had experiences where we didn’t ask for help or get the support we needed out of fear of being pitied, so we explored why that is.
My client decided that being pitied is an experience of someone being above you, looking down on you and this triggers shame and a feeling of being less than, which is almost as bad as the original insult or hurt. When I asked her about empathy, she described this as an experience of someone being equal to you without judgment, and then you feel safe to ask for support or help. So we established that pity causes shame and separation and empathy creates safety and connection.
As I sat and contemplated the her teenage wisdom, I realized that after 25 years of social work, I couldn’t come up with a better description of the difference between pity and empathy. All of us need empathy in order to feel safe to share our pain and be willing to ask for help. This is essential for our soul’s journey.
If you are having thoughts like “I hate myself” it may help to explore online counseling with me in a safe and empathetic environment. If you want to learn more about it, click on my Services page and if you want to read more posts, click here on my Blog.
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I’ve always loved the word Delight! To me it means “of the light” and with all the darkness and fear in the world today, I wanted to create a place where we can gather together, restore our connection to the light and help one another to Delight The World with love, kindness, gentleness, beauty, compassion and grace. —Amy Rose, LCSW