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Emotion Encyclopedia for Writers

Emotion Encyclopedia for Writers



DEFINITION'sym·pa·thy || 'sɪmpəθɪaffinity, understanding; compassion, pity, concern, commiseration, empathy; approval

Sympathy (from the Greek words syn "together" and pathos "feeling" which means "fellow-feeling") is the perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another human being.

This emphatic-type concern is driven by a switch in viewpoint, from a personal perspective to the perspective of another group or individual who is in need. Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but are two distinct emotions with several important differences.

Empathy refers to the understanding and sharing of a specific emotional state with another person. Empathy can also be completely cerebral without emotional connection. Understanding, and awareness does not automatically require emotional bonding. Generally however this is called an Emphatic understanding and Empathy is used to denote the emotion. Merriam Webster defines empathy as "the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings."

Sympathy is a feeling, an emotion, and therefore has a motivation toward action. Sympathy does not require the sharing of the same emotional state. Instead, sympathy is a concern for the well-being of another. The definition of sympathy is "the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else's trouble, grief, misfortune, etc. : a feeling of support for something : a state in which different people share the same interests, opinions, goals, etc


  • Sympathy Requires the Other
  • Sympathy Requires Duress of the Other
  • Sympathy requires active attention and awareness (proximity) of the Other
  • Empathy is not required, but often causes sympathetic states -- but not always
  • Duress or Illness of  the Other is required. Note that Sympathy is not for Positive States in the Other
  • A tendency to altruistic behavior will open opportunities for Sympathy
  • Sympathy is classified as a Moral Emotion -- if the Character's Morals are slight, or not toward this direction then it is unlikely that Sympathy will occur -- but not impossibe
Sympathy is defined as an affective response that frequently stems from empathy (but can derive directly from perspective or other cognitive processing), and consists of feelings of sorrow
or concern for the distressed or needy other (rather than the same emotion as the other person). Sympathetic concern or compassion, more than empathy, would be expected to motivate altruistic behavior because empathy may dissipate before an individual experiences sympathy or may be experienced as aversive and lead to a self-focus (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998). Unfortunately, in much of the research, it is difficult to differentiate empathy from sympathy(Eisenberg, 2003)

Characters often experience Sympathy for those who are facing problems that the character has experienced her self in the past or perhaps a loved one experience same/similar situation. The outcome of that trial, would certainly be a factor in the level of this emotion.

Sympathy can be derived from Guilt, Moral Obligation, Gratitude(i.e. paying it forward), positions of Responsibility, Ideals of Fairness, and combinations of all of these. As a complex emotion it's cause can be unique to the Character. It could be that the Character herself is uncertain why she feels the need to help the Other.


abetment, accord, accordance, addition, adduction, adjunct, advocacy, aegis, affairs, affectionateness, affections, affective faculty, affectivity, affiliation, affinity, agape, agreement, aid and comfort, allergy, alliance, allurement, amity, an in, anaphylaxis, approximation, assemblage, association, assurance, attractance, attraction, attractiveness, attractivity, auspices, backing, balm, benevolence, benignancy, benignity, bent, bias, blending, bond, bonds of harmony, brotherhood, brotherly love, camaraderie, capillarity, capillary attraction, care, caring, caritas, cement of friendship, centripetal force, championship, charity, chiming, chord, clemency, closeness, combination, comfort, commiseration, communion, community, community of interests, compassion, compatibility, concern, concord, concordance, condolement, condolence, congeniality, connectedness, connection, considerateness, consolation, consonant, contiguity, contrariety, correspondence, countenance, dealings, deduction, delicacy, disjunction, drag, draw, easement, echo, emotional life, emotions, empathy, encouragement, esprit, esprit de corps, exquisiteness, fancy, fascination, favor, favorable regard, feeling, feeling of identity, feeling of kinship, feeling tone, feelings, fellow feeling, fellowship, filiation, fineness, finer feelings, forbearance, forgiveness, fosterage, fraternal feeling, frictionlessness, friendly relations, good graces, good terms, good understanding, good vibes, good vibrations, goodness, goodness of heart, goodwill, grace, graciousness, gravitation, gravity, guidance, happy family, harmonic, harmony, heart, heart of gold, homology, humaneness, humanity, hyperesthesia, hyperpathia, hypersensitivity, identification, identity, inclination, intercourse, interest, intimacy, involvement, irritability, junction, kindheartedness, kindliness, kindly disposition, kindness, kinship, leaning, leniency, liaison, like-mindedness, link, linkage, linking, love, loving kindness, magnetism, mercy, mitigation, musical, mutual affinity, mutual attraction, mutual regard, mutuality, nearness, nervousness, niceness, oneness, oversensibility, oversensitiveness, overtenderness, pardon, partiality, passibility, passions, pathos, patronage, peace, penchant, perceptiveness, perceptivity, photophobia, pity, predilection, preference, prickliness, proclivity, propensity, propinquity, proximity, pull, pulling power, quarter, rapport, rapprochement, reassurance, reciprocity, regard, relatedness, relating, relation, relations, relationship, relief, reprieve, respect, response, responsiveness, rue, ruth, seconding, self-pity, sensibilities, sensitiveness, sensitivity, sensitization, sentiments, sharing, sharing of grief, shred of comfort, similarity, softheartedness, solace, solacement, solicitousness, solidarity, soothing words, soreness, soul of kindness, sponsorship, supersensitivity, support, susceptibilities, sympathetic chord, sympathetic response, sympathies, symphonic, symphonious, symphony, tact, tactfulness, team spirit, tender susceptibilities, tenderheartedness, tenderness, tetchiness, thin skin, ticklishness, tie, tie-in, touchiness, traction, tug, turn, tutelage, understanding, union, unison, unity, vibes, vibrations, warmheartedness, warmth, warmth of heart


sympathy - 1570s, "affinity between certain things," from Middle French sympathie (16c.) and directly from Late Latin sympathia "community of feeling, sympathy," from Greek sympatheia "fellow-feeling, community of feeling," from sympathes "having a fellow feeling, affected by like feelings," from assimilated form of syn- "together" (see syn-) + pathos "feeling" (see pathos). 

In English, almost a magical notion at first; used in reference to medicines that heal wounds when applied to a cloth stained with blood from the wound. Meaning "conformity of feelings" is from 1590s; sense of "fellow feeling, compassion" is first attested c. 1600. An Old English loan-translation of sympathy was efensargung.

sympathetic (adj.) 
1640s, "pertaining to sympathy," from Modern Latin sympatheticus, from late Greek sympathetikos "having sympathy," from sympathein, from sympathes "having a fellow feeling, affected by like feelings" (see sympathy). In English, the meaning "having fellow feeling, susceptible to altruistic feelings" is recorded from 1718.  -- In the anatomical sense, "subject to a common nervous influence," the word is attested from 1769, from Modern Latin (nervus) sympathicus, coined by Jacques-Benigne Winslow (1669-1760), Danish anatomist living in Paris. Related: Sympathetical (1630s); Sympathetically (1620s).

sympathize (v.) 
"have fellow-feeling," c. 1600, from Middle French sympathiser, from sympathie (see sympathy). Earlier in a physiological sense (1590s). As "express sympathy," from 1748. Related: Sympathized; sympathizing.

compassion (n.) 
mid-14c., from Old French compassion "sympathy, pity" (12c.), from Late Latin compassionem (nominative compassio) "sympathy," noun of state from past participle stem of compati "to feel pity," from com- "together" (see com-) + pati "to suffer" (see passion). 


  • character will be attentive to the Other (get coffee, physical contact such as holding hand, rubbing back)
  • An openness in facial expression toward the Other (wider eyes, active listening(leaning forward))
  • Openness will extend to none aggressive posture - a dropping of defenses but not required i.e. not stupid
  • Tone of voice will often be fuller, slower, soothing, comforting toward the Other, but not to everyone
  • While body language may be all of these toward the Other, instant changes to aggressive, judgmental, condemning or any other state toward people around can happen the instant the character focuses on them. This will be especially acute when the character perceives the person as responsible for the Other's condition.
  • Expression of worry may exist as well as a sense of worry while in pretense of Other, however will likely not leave the room with the character. Again, Sympathy may be acute in direct poximity of the Other, but distance will diminish the emotional state.
  • Impatience with interruptions while talking to Other
  • Furrowed brow while listening to Other describe problem/cause of current state
  • Nodding in agreement or understanding  while listening to Other describe problem/cause of current state
  • Hands,if not in contact maybe clasped loosely in lap, or on table. Note taking to demonstrate intention of action for the benefit or on behalf of the Other
  • It could be obvious to others around the character, that her decisions are bias or that she has a "blind spot" in this area


  • A calm, patient open feeling, and a projection of these qualities 
  • Attentiveness to signs of distress from the Other
  • Disregard of payments or personal benefit, though maybe aware of budget, and resource limitations.
  • Character may mentally set boundaries or limitations on how far they are willing to be involved with Other
  • Attention, while focused on the other, is not so encumbered as to be unaware of other activity


  • Feelings of urgency
  • Decisions and plans often are biased or take into account the Other's plight
  • Personal relationships can be strained by those who minimize the Other's plight 
  • Judgment of personal morals of those around her are affected by their view of the plight. People she trusted before may no longer be 'trust worthy' 


Sympathy is more acute in close proximity, where the Other can be seen and assessed. It will also be strongly affected by level of commitment toward the Other, which can get complex as well. For example if the Character is motivated toward solving hunger problems in the area, and the Other is affected by hunger, a stronger motivation to help can occur. The same character with the same strong drive toward hunger, may not be as effected by someone who has no problem with food, but is, for example, having domestic violence issues at home. Since sympathy is not reliant on Empathy, even if the Character has suffered in the past with domestic violence issues -- it may not strengthen the need to help or the motivation to solve/assist the issue.

Sympathy is classified as a Moral Motivator.


  • Distance may have a dramatic decrease of the need for action
  • Guidance Given by Mentoring Character (i.e. increase in belief)


  • Worry
  • Frustration
  • Increase in moral judgement of others


  • Guilt - when not responded to or allowing other priorities to keep her from responding
  • Obsession -- if failure to make a difference is experienced multiple times
  • Apathy  -- from willingly fighting against Sympathy because of other priorities (Hardening her heart for the Cause)


It is said that Siddhārtha Gautama's ( Buddha), capacity for Sympathy was so strong that a single glimpse of suffering was enough to change his life -- drastically altering his values, his view of the world, and his belief in his father's power and knowledge.
Various sources hold that the Buddha's mother died at his birth, a few days or seven days later. The infant was given the name Siddhartha, meaning "he who achieves his aim". During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain and announced that the child would either become a great king or a great holy man.

Wishing for his son to be a Great King, his father, King Śuddhodana, shielded him from religious teachings and from knowledge of human suffering. His father went to great lengths to see that his son never saw anyone sick or injured or even poor.

When he reached the age of 16, his father reputedly arranged his marriage to a cousin of the same age named Yaśodharā. According to the tradition, she gave birth to a son, named Rāhula. Siddhartha is said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu. 
At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father's efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. Deeply affected by these encounters he left the palace and sought the life of an ascetic.
The story of Buddha shows that understanding or empathy is not required to feel sympathetic, and in feeling sympathetic, being motivated into action (driven). That the motivation can be strong enough to supplant current beliefs, and urge action even at the risk of injury and death -- running off to live in the jungle for a prince who was never shown suffering was not a safe action to take).


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