Sympathy is a Garbage Emotion

Guest Blogger: Taylar McCoy, Our Front Porch 2017-2018 Intern

While working at Our Front Porch I have been able to hone some really useful skills, but one thing seems to stick out the most. Our Front Porch has given me an outlet to truly understand the difference between sympathy and empathy. Some people see these words as synonyms, but they are quite different. There are four words that I would consider to be related, but distinguishable: pity, sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Sympathy and empathy tend to be the two ideas that are intertwined the most. I would argue that empathy includes a component of connection and emotional intelligence that only comes from practice.

In my opinion, sympathy is a garbage emotion compared to empathy. To be fair, giving sympathy to someone is better than feeling nothing at all. However, being empathetic allows for social connection through experience. Brené Brown said it best, “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice.” When describing the differences, Brené Brown used really powerful examples which is why her Ted Talk is among my favorites. Instead of describing the main differences, I have embedded an animated version of her speech. The examples used help demonstrate the differences better than I ever could.

Before starting at Our Front Porch, I had little to no clinical experience. When thinking about how to respond to this population, all I could come up with was “I’m so sorry” and “please let us know if there’s something we can do to help.” I thought that it would be helpful if I would say something like “you may have lost your home, but at least everyone is safe.” Now that I have been working here I have learned that some of those things are okay to say, but to create a silver lining is counterproductive. I have learned not to minimize people experiences, to be blunt and tell them that this sucks and that yes: the system is broken. I learned how important it is for people to know that they are not alone. Working at Our Front Porch taught me that I don’t have to craft the perfect response, but that I just need to be there with the person and thank them for being vulnerable with me. Connecting with our clients and walking this tough journey together is one of the foundations of Our Front Porch.

During this internship, my heart has broken. I’ve clenched my fists in anger while being lectured to by landlords on the phone, wept in the car after working with a very sick child, and mourned the loss of my coworker’s favorite client when he passed away. This internship has given me the opportunity to feel these raw emotions and share deep connections with a population that has suffered so much loss. I couldn’t be more grateful for my time here, and I know that I will be a better friend, daughter, and clinician after working at Our Front Porch.

~Taylar McCoy, Our Front Porch 2017-2018 Intern

3 replies
  1. Sue
    Sue says:

    Well said, Taylor. I’m so glad to. Know your time at OFP was valuable. Sounds like you have just the right skills for a wonderful, professional and rewarding life ahead!

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