Brené Brown on Empathy

(GASPS) So, what is empathy and why is it
VERY different than sympathy? Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. It’s very interesting. Theresa Wiseman is a nursing scholar who studied very diverse professions
where empathy is relevant and came up with
four qualities of empathy. Perspective taking – ability to take
the perspective of another person, or recognise their perspective
as their truth. Staying out of judgment – not easy when you enjoy it
as much as most of us do. (AUDIENCE CHUCKLES) Recognising emotion in other people,
then communicating that. Empathy is feeling WITH people. I always think of empathy
as this kind of sacred space. When someone’s in a deep hole
and they shout from the bottom… ..And we look and we say, “Hey!”
And climb down… Sympathy is, “Ooh!”
(LAUGHTER) “It’s bad, uh-huh?”
(LAUGHTER) “Uh… No. You want a sandwich?” Empathy is a choice
and it’s a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something
in myself that knows that feeling. Rarely, if ever, does an empathic
response begin with, “At least…” (LAUGHTER) Yeah. And we do it all the time
because, you know what? Someone shared something with us
that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying
to “silver lining” it. I don’t think that’s a verb,
but I’m using it as one. We’re trying to put a silver lining
around it. So, “I had a miscarriage.” “At least you know
you can get pregnant.” “I think my marriage
is falling apart.” “At least you have a marriage.” (LAUGHTER) “John’s getting kicked out
of school.” “At least Sarah is an A-student.” One of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult
conversations is we try to make things better. If I share something with you that’s
very difficult, I’d rather you say, “I don’t even know what to say.
I’m just so glad you told me.” Because the truth is, rarely can
a response make something better. What makes something better
is connection.

100 thoughts on “Brené Brown on Empathy

  • Thank you Anthony this is how I see it… See your pain with Sympathy feel your pain with Empathy. I don't think Sympathy drives people away, its just not connecting on a level that they might need.

  • Sym–same, path–feel. Sympathy gets a bad rap. It means to feel the same as, not the "sorry for" people have turned it into and not the invalidating responses by the deer.

  • This is really cute
    And studying those who were feeling bad and changed is a great start
    Like when my friend was stressed over their car crash i didnt say, oh i understand
    I changed the way they thought about it by changing myself to the state they wanted and staying there, while talking about the little things we could do
    Both focusing them on what can be done, and changing the giant ass pictures in their head to something less intense
    Learn what works for many people, and know when you need to do something.. anything else

  • Thanks for this. Got introduced to Brene through a friend and this really made sense to me. I was a post-graduate social work student and somewhere down the line since 1998, I guess, I forgot all about empathy. Many a times, I'm told that I don't listen, and I didn't know what I should do. This bit on empathy has put things into perspective for me. I could see where I was going wrong and what I could've done in the place of handing over a sandwich. Thanks so much!

  • Empathy is really a choice indeed.
    Some people simply couldn’t hold back and keep talking, but I do think that listening to what others said is truly important.
    It is tiring to connect to my bad and heavy memories in order to feel what others feel.
    That’s why I treasure those who are willing to listen and put themselves in the others shoes.
    There are less and less people who choose empathy in the society nowadays, which is quite pathetic.

  • I just got dumped by a girl i love because i dont have empathy. I'm watching this video while asking for a forgive from her. Wish me luck guys

  • Yeah, but the thing is that we shouldn't have both, it must be either empathy or sympathy; because one of them is fake, and one is real… So, be real people and chose who you are, sympathy or empathy. While I was in emigration, my childhood friend, one of the best friend died in a car crash. When I heard that tragedy, My heart got frozen, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I never called his family to give sympathy because I wasn't able to provide them with empathy. Since then I have never gone back to my home place. But when I go there, I will give them a powerful hug without words, and that will be my empathy. No matter what psychologists call things, and peoples emotions, but empathy and sympathy should have the same roots. So, be real, if you really don't feel it is not nesssesery to be sympathetic.

  • Empathy is being able to have a connection with someone or understand what a person is going through. It's being able to share a deep feeling with someone. It is the ability of a person to imagine himself/herself in the situation of another person, including their emotions, ideas, or opinions. Whereas sympathy is seeing some else's pain but not being able to relate or understand. You just notice it. A lot of people don't understand the difference between the two and often confuse them when comforting someone. They don't understand what the power of words can have on a vulnerable person.

  • "Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection."….. so bloody true.

  • Actually these are the emphatic people who let us feel the pain without giving advice at first and treat us as a normal person.

  • This video just made me realize what a real friend is suppose to look like. Not like the goat eating the sandwich!

  • For Ms Brown, and the vast majority of commenters, some clarity based on actual definition:

    The rest is mostly value judgements, problem solving, minimization, and narcissistic self-comfort, with a sprinkling of apathy.

  • Great video & beautifully produced – HOWEVER, I can't help but feel you've recast both Empathy (as real listening) and Sympathy (as selfish/shallow listening) in a way that suits and nice vehicle for the animation – you've exaggerated and caricatured the common interpretation of both words . The generally accepted difference between the two is that EMPATHY is based on an experience you have have experinced, whereas SYMPATHY is only based on an estimation of another person's feelings.

  • I understand that empathy is such a profound and meaningful thing but in some cases sympathy can be helpful too as it sways someone to look at the bright side or at the solution. Maybe not as good as empathy but sympathy is not so bad.

  • I think empathy is important and useful but this video gives terrible short shrift to sympathy. Sympathy when given with openness and generosity can be brilliantly helpful and it's worth remembering two important limitations of empathy. 1. You might not have an analogous event in your history to connect to the person that is struggling. If you cannot properly emulate their feelings due to this attempted empathy could lead to misunderstanding and hurt feelings. Also if you empathise and for you the thing that concerned them was not hard for you to deal with, your focus on your feeling can distract from supporting them, whereas they need you to be there for them and what they are reporting to be finding hard. If identity politics has pointed out one thing we should all be able to agree with is that we will never be able to know what if feels like to be anyone else other than ourselves, pretending otherwise can be very dangerous 2. You have to maintain your own mental state too. If you empathise too much with too many people you will potentially be exhausting your emotional reserves simulating the pain and suffering of those around you in order to connect with them on their level only to find yourself now in need of someone to empathise with you. A genuine and focused sympathetic response that does nothing to minimise or invalidate the troubles of the person can achieve helping them feel heard and loved but also avoid pulling you into the same pain. We do not solve other peoples depression by creating our own. We need methods to have win-wins for emotional support. Empathy cannot do this alone.

  • The big challenge in our bitterly divided world is how to develop empathy. Learn how you can develop it in your community

  • Yeah but following her logic you end up with 2 people's stuck in an whole who can't get out and the one outside is trying to get them out.

  • very clear for me as English my second language. I really benefited and more confidence in the information that I want to present.
    thanks to my instructor as letting me know about you. a bunch of thanks for the way of explaining

  • Perfection. So articulate about grief. The 'at least' comments after we lost our baby, the 'at least' comments after my father died, and the 'don't give up!' preaching to us has been out of control over many years of infertility, pregnancy loss, adoption failure and birth mother scams has shown us who our real friends/family are. What I always tell people is when someone is grieving there are only three types of things to say – it's f*cked, it sucks, and it's not fair. Then tell them you love and support them. Period. Don't ask them what you can do as it forces someone in a fragile state to help you feel better. Simply be there. Don't ghost them because you don't know what to do. Don't minimize it with a 'silver lining' as Brene said. You're not being helpful. How hard is it to just tell someone you support them without bringing your own stuff into it?

  • Too much empathy alone can be a vicious downward cycle and create learned helplessness / victimhood. We need to add compassion i.e understanding their plight from their perspective, feeling it momentarily, then helping them get out of the hole – otherwise both of you end up in a hole 🙁

  • Brene is the best, and she speaks so beautifully on empathy. She's an inspiration for my empathy/mental health podcast:

  • Can someone explain why the bear smiles when he too is experiencing dark pouring clouds of sadness? I think we're encountering two very different definitions of empathy. 1. Feeling exactly the same feelings as someone else. 2. Saying "Hey I've been there." or "I don't know what to say. That's awful." or other platitudes.

  • This is the best video that explains what empathy is I have ever come across by far! it's right on point yet adding a bit of humor to it and the animation is nicely done too! Love it! 🙂

  • According to Webster…she has it completely backwards

  • Sympathy is sometimes kind of hypocrite because you are not sharing that feeling, you just try to help them without understanding the pain they are dealing with. While empathy is to share the same emotion, to understand the way they are feeling and supporting them.

  • The sympathy described in this video is NOT true sympathy. Look it up for yourself…

  • I'm grateful for being such a Empathetic person. I don't even need to call for it. It just appears and then, there's tears already in my eyes.

  • I've never heard sympathy explained in this way, and that it drives disconnection. Ever since I was a kid it has been explained to me in this way. Sympathy: I've never been through what youre going through. I can only imagine. I'm so sorry. Empathy: I've been there before. I know what you're going through. I'm so sorry.

    Is this incorrect? If so how?

  • When I lost people I loved people brought food….in fact, some brought sandwiches! I was sorrowful, depressed, exhausted……… The last thing I wanted to do was worry about what I or my family would eat and it is important to keep up your physical strength. Not eating can worsen emotional upset. I very much appreciated each and every sandwich and every food item that people prepared/purchased and brought to me. I saw that as their attempt to show that they care about my hurt. People express things differently and some are more able to express feelings/empathy/sympathy than others. We should be gracious, thankful, kind, caring, forgiving…… is short, use the time to become aware of your own failings and correct them…..focusing on the perceived faults of others will help nothing, change nothing. Too much attitude, ridicule, hatefulness, judgementalism and criticism of the failings of others on here.

  • I'm 64 yo and many times in sorrow and trouble "responses" have been very comforting and helpful…..sandwiches too! Everyone is not going to have a"connection" to you. People do and say what they are able to. They do not have to do or say anything. My attitude toward responses and sandwiches as well as people who have made connections is gratefulness. I am not speaking here of people who say "at least". That is not sympathy at all. However, even many of those people are doing the best they know how to help you even if their "help" is misguided. Seems we have too many expectations of others in this world and when people do not meet them we are all too quick to criticize and talk about what they did wrong or didn't do right. It is more than I can do, to worry about what I am doing wrong and try to correct that. Many times I have given a "response" rather than made a "connection" or made sandwiches or a casserole or bought a pizza. That did not mean I did not truly care, I did care and I hope the people involved did not speak as badly about me as some of the comments have been about people who make sandwiches and say I'm sorry. Even worse, there have been times when I did nothing when I knew people were hurt or in trouble… is so easy to find excuses! I am sure no one else here has ever done that and that is probably why they are so quick to point out how others have failed in their attempts to express concern. Life is short…… grateful, be forgiving, be kind!

  • this definition of sympathy is not very accurate. I think sympathy is when you join the person in the dark hole and then neither of you can get out. It is taking on the other person's pain and making it your own.

  • My communications teacher showed this to me a year ago and it seriously changed my relationship with a lot of people. I freaking love it. I share it with everyone who brings up empathy around me, and I try to watch it every few months just to remind myself not to fall back in the, “at least” way of thinking ❤️

  • Ok but…. Empathy is just feeling the same emotions as another person. That's it. Sympathy is feeling concern for another person. One isn't any better than the other, and sometimes there are situations that call for sympathy more than empathy (most situations, really).

    Like… I'm low empathy autistic and this always rubbed me the wrong way and I never knew why until now. I can't get down in the hole with someone. And if I did, I don't think I could get back out.

    You know what's a lot more helpful than "I feel what you feel?" It's "do you want to talk about it?" "Do you want a distraction?" And often just "i understand."
    They make sympathetic people out to be careless and heartless but sometimes "how about i get you a snack, ok?" is a LOT more helpful than feeling with someone.
    I dont think it was the intention to throw a lot of autistic and neurodivergent people under the bus, but damn this is annoying.

  • Empathy is not a good thing. Whenever something bad happens to someone, I just think that they are probably bad people and deserve it.

  • Person A:  "I lost $10 playing poker today."
    Person B:  "Yes,… and you won $10 playing poker yesterday."
    Person B, being outside of the hole, may have a perspective which better enables them to provide the rest of an incomplete picture.

  • Improved Transcript:

    So, what is empathy and why is it VERY different than sympathy?
    Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.

    Empathy… It's very interesting. Theresa Wiseman is a nursing scholar who studied professions – very diverse professions – where empathy is relevant, and came up with four qualities of empathy:
    [1] Perspective taking – the ability to take the perspective of another person, or recognize their perspective as their truth. [2] Staying out of judgment – not easy when you enjoy it as much as most of us do. [3] Recognizing emotion in other people, [4] and then communicating that.

    Empathy is feeling WITH people. And to me… I always think of empathy as this kind of sacred space. When someone's kind of in a deep hole, and they shout from the bottom, and they say, "I'm stuck. It's dark. I'm overwhelmed." And then, we look and we say, "Hey!" And climb down…"I know what it's like down here. And you're not alone."

    Sympathy is, "Ooh!" "It's bad, uh-huh?" "Uh… No. You want a sandwich?"

    Empathy is a choice and it's a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling. Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with, "At least…" …Yeah. And we do it all the time because – you know what – someone shared something with us that's incredibly painful and we're trying to "silver [line]" it. I don't think that's a verb, but I'm using it as one. We're trying to put a silver lining around it.

    [problem:] "I had a miscarriage."
    [empathetic response:] "At least you know you can get pregnant."

    [problem:] "I think my marriage is falling apart."
    [empathetic response:] "At least you have a marriage."

    [problem:] "John's getting kicked out of school."
    [empathetic response:] "At least Sarah is an A-student."

    But one of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations is we try to make things better. If I share something with you that's very difficult, I'd rather you say, "I don't even know what to say right now. I'm just so glad you told me." Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.

  • "I don't even know what to say right now , I'm just glad you told me." Wish more of my friends knew that phrase instead of dumping advice on me.

  • Let's just continue to butcher the English language, then… Also, this reminds me of a certain video about a woman with a nail in her forehead and an inherent difference between men and women.

  • “I really don’t know what to say right now, but I’m just so glad you told me.” This is the reason folks come to AA and Al Anon meetings to find sanctuary. They find genuine nurturing from others, true empathy, and a way toward spiritual resilience. Over time, these brothers and sisters find a relationship with God, true fellowship with others, and progress toward a true identification with their divine nature.

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