What Is the Difference Between Empathy and Compassion?
I recently interviewed Dr. Stephen Trzeciak for my podcast. Steve is the Chief of Medicine at Cooper University Health Care and author of Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence The Caring Makes a Difference.
I asked Steve what is the difference between empathy and compassion since it seems a lot of people think they are the same. He answered with a quote from his co-author, Anthony Marrazzelli.
You can have empathy though a one-way mirror, but you can’t have compassion.
Compassion vs. Empathy
So what is the difference between empathy and compassion?
Empathy is feeling the emotional pain of another person.
Compassion requires taking action on those feelings.
Our brains know the difference. FMRI brain scans show that when people experience empathy, the pain centers of the brain are active. When people engage in compassionate acts, the reward centers of the brain light up. Compassion feels good and is energizing.
Next Element’s Compassion Cycle shows how the pieces fit together.
The first compassion skill is Openness, and involves creating a safe emotional connection with another person – the heart. Empathy is one of three strategies for practicing openness.
Resourcefulness is head-work, and involves problem solving for how best to help. There are three strategies for being resourceful.
Persistence is where the action takes place. This is where we follow through on the actions of compassion. Persistence also includes three strategies.
Compassion fatigue is a misnomer. Empathy fatigue is more accurate. Did you know that one of the best interventions for physician burnout is leaning in to the patient experience with compassion? Instead of being a drain, compassion actually builds physician resilience and resistance to burnout, while also influencing a host of positive patient outcomes.
So, what is the difference between compassion and empathy? Full compassion requires the heart, the head, and the hands. Empathy is one ninth of the process.