Empathy minus the feeling of being overwhelmed moves us in the direction of compassion. It enables us to be a loving force for good in the world.
I use this four-level hierarchy to explain the differences between apathy, sympathy, empathy and compassion.
Apathy = I don't care. You are unimportant to me.
Sympathy = I see you and I am feel sorry about your plight. This can feel like one-up/one-down. The person I "feel sympathy for" may feel pitied -- which doesn't feel good. But this is a step up from apathy. I might donate money or express concern from sympathy.
Empathy = I feel what you feel. This is a peer-to-peer experience. When you are sad, I feel the sadness in my body/mind/heart. This has a genuine caring texture to the person who is suffering. But you might feel like you are riding the emotional rollercoaster of emotions. You and I might feel unsafe and distance ourselves if feeling another's pain becomes too much.
Compassion = I feel what you feel and it doesn't overwhelm my circuits. My wisdom circuits remain active and I modulate my emotional state. I see a larger picture. I act skillfully to relieve suffering where I can, or to sit with people who just need accompaniment in their pain (or their joy).
by Cindy Wigglesworth
the definitition in of empathy in this article is not very accurate and more like a form of sympathy. For a more indept Definition of Empathy see