Rough but usable


As some people say:  "Do you know where sympathy is in the dictionary?"  "Between shit and syphilus."

This implies it is "bad".  No, it isn't, in itself.  It can either serve a useful function or it can be harmful if misused.  (And, of course, the latter is what is assumed in characterizing it as "bad.")

The person who "needs" it could be misusing it, as a form of dependency that makes one weak, perpetuating that state of being - as such it coconspires to create something that causes suffering in the long term.  Or the person could simply be getting some comfort from it, so the state of arousal is calmed - and surely that is "good".  Somewhere in between is the "tipping point", from useful over into dysfunctionals. 

The person who "gives" it often gets a good feeling (as "empathy" feels good, as "feeling close" feels good, naturally).  Here, again, there can be a tipping point into codependency, where one is using it in order to appease another or be liked by another, but overusing it so that it damages the other.

Why do I want empathy, sympathy, compassion?  Because I attribute a meaning to it that I am loved or cared for in some way and that is comforting to me, as I don't feel alone or so helpless or vulnerable.  Note that none of those are "bad" (as discussed above) but you'll also notice that a person who is not dependent, who is self-sufficient, does not "need" sympathy, empathy, or compassion, even though it could feel good to them.  They are just fine without it.

Needing it is neither good nor bad, per se.  The question is always whether there is a net positive or a net negative result.  Why I want it is that I may want to be comforted now so that I can get out of negative state of arousal in the now.  That makes sense.  And if I need it often, that is an indicator to look deeper to see why and how we can address it in a more functional manner.

(Notice that it is also true that a self-actualized, non-dependent, self-sufficient person will learn how to and then do the actions necessary to handle appropriately a negative state of arousal to return to a functional state of homeostasis.)

Sympathy is also a social skill, where we are attempting to give to another, to figure out how to do so, to make that person feel better (to make yourself better) or to please the other so that the other feels closer to you and will like you better. 

It involves:

Attention to a subject
Believing that a person is in a state of need
An affective response (since the purpose of sympathy is to produce "feeling better")

The reason, probably, that it evolved was that those who did it were more successful in their relationships in terms of getting support for survival and/or staying together long enough to procreate, which is the very reason the trait is passed on.  Or we simply learn as children that being sympathetic works in order to be loved or liked and then supported in some way.


The purpose is clearly affinity plus lowering a state of arousal plus a feeling that comes from kindness or caring for another.

Feeling supported 
Feeling secure

What matters about it?  To the person "giving" the sympathy it could feel good, as one is thinking how good one is for being sympathetic and caring and about giving to another.  That is, of course, a positive human experience, not a good/bad evaluation or accusation of being selfish....


If you want to go deeper or further:


Sympathy is not just understanding another person’s perspective. It is also feeling the same way the other person feels about their problem. This is why I don’t like “sympathy” greeting cards. If my friend’s mother just died, I don’t feel sympathy. I might empathize with them—my mother died 11 years ago, so I absolutely understand what they’re going through—but I am not going through it myself.

Empathy:  Noticing and understanding someone else’s experience, or situation, or perspective. Empathy does not mean you agree, or share the feeling, or see it their way. It only means you get it, you get how they see their problem.

Compassion is empathy-plus-help, or sympathy-plus-help. Here’s what I mean: if I empathize or sympathize with someone, I haven’t really done anything yet, at least anything active or concrete.

Compassion means that not only do I empathize, not only do I sympathize, but I want to do or say something that will help them.

Empathy is entering into another's feelings. Sympathy is having a feeling together with someone.
Sympathy is when you feel bad for someone else. Empathy is when you feel bad with someone else

Empathy: the ability to understand, perceive and feel another person’s feelings.
    understand but not get stuck in
Sympathy: the tendency to help others in order to prevent or alleviate their suffering.
   pity, make other dependent on...


(I don't make a need or a belief that we have a need is just a part of a mechanism...


What is sympathy? Who needs sympathy? Why do you think...?

the person or people need sympathy?
I like to underscore what sympathy is by contrasting it with empathy.

Empathy is knowing what someone else is feeling. The wording is important - it is knowledge and information. There is no implied course of action (though many people seem to think so).

Sympathy is not only knowing what someone else is feeling, it is SHARING that feeling. If you're happy and know someone else is sad, you are being empathic. If someone else's sadness MAKES you sad, then you are sympathizing. And again, there is no implied course of action.

Now, I know there will be people who say that empathizing and sympathizing causes mercy, compassion, generousity, and any number of other things. It is easy to see how this might be so. But MIGHT is not MUST! I have known empathizers and sympathizers who, instead of helping the suffering, simply avoid them. It would have been better if they had helped but been entirely insensitive to the emotions of others!

It is likewise hard to support the idea that sympathy is inherently good, because it arguably spreads pain and suffering around just as easily as it does joy and happiness. And how is increasing suffering a good thing?

Ultimately, since sympathy doesn't necessarily lead to any particular course of action, I have to say that NOBODY needs it. It might help with some tasks, but it is not necessary for them. I suspect that such a two-edged sword is probably best left sheathed.

It is the empathetic nurturing of one of your same specie. Or the understanding calming of another animal. Every living creature needs sympathy to feel loved if you don't feel loved you are going to be depressed and not flourish in your life and productivity; or -- you will become apathetic, unfeeling and methodical with no use for anyone or thing but yourself and keeping "your" personal life organized with no use for pragmatic persons who would try to elevate themselves and others to a higher spiritual level which can only increase love, joy and all the reasons we protect each other and concern ourselves with the conditions of the world.

it's when you can realize another's feelings and feel sorry for something that happened to them. Everyone should give sympathy or society would be too hateful and crumble. where there's sympathy, I believe there is love

Compassion and Sympathy are often confused. Compassion is the act of helping others to help themselves. Sympathy is the act of helping others who don't want to help themselves. Who simply want a handout. It is sometimes necessary to so this in order to find the ones who actually want to change their situation