I stumbled upon this video after writing my blog post for last week. This is a good follow-up because it depicts the problem of empathy vs sympathy from the perspective of the person who is pulled to be “the fixer”. Sometimes another person’s problems may seem simple, obvious, or trivial, but you can never fully appreciate how that person feels about his or her situation. Attempting to solve another person’s problems effectively ignores the feelings associated with those problems.
In close personal relationships it is more important to feel heard, understood, and emotionally supported than it is to have your problems solved for you. Having a nail lodged in your forehead may be an extreme example, but imagine if this were someone who was unhappy in a job, or who recently had a death in his/her life. Would you say “well, you should just quit your job!” or “move on with life, that person wouldn’t want you to be sad.”? Or would you say something like “that really sucks. I know I have been through something like that before and it was really hard. Do you want to talk about it?” Sometimes we shy away from the underlying emotions because they can be hard and scary, but going there with someone will really communicate that you are there for him/her and will help him/her to feel safe, supported, and heard.