Key Difference: Sympathy means feeling sorry for someone going through a bad situation, while empathy means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and feeling what they are feeling.
There is a lot of confusion regarding these two emotional states. Though these states are inter-related, there is a huge and important difference between them. Sympathy and Empathy are most commonly found in unhappy or rough situations, and rarely in happy situations.
Sympathy is one’s ability to extend compassion to another. It does not necessarily mean that the person who shows compassion may have gone through the same thing. During sympathy the one who is in pain or suffering is going through it alone. It is ability that one person understands that another is going through the pain or suffering and feels sorry for them or the situation and cares for their well-being. Sympathy can be expressed using words and facial expression. An example of sympathy is a child, who cries when he hears another child crying, although the child does not understand the situation, he sympathizes with the other child.
Empathy is one’s ability to understand the pain of another person as they may have gone through something similar and are still suffering through it. The person feeling the empathy can put themselves completely in the other person’s shoes and feel what they are feeling, think what they are thinking, see what they are seeing, etc. Empathy can extend to the level, where the lines between self and other are blurred. An example of empathy is someone suffering a loss of a close family member, is felt by another person who has gone through the same loss previously.