Have No Pity. Use Your Empathy And Show Compassion Instead

Little John is just learning to walk. He’s making his first attempts to do this simple and so complicated action called walking. See him smiling and giggling and so faithfully making attempt after attempt to walk. He takes a few steps, he falls down. He gets back again. Then he falls again.

What would you say to him?

Version 1: “Oh, you poor baby, you fell. That’s terrible, this is not fair, stay there, I will carry you around!”

Version 2: “Ups, you fell. This happens when you are learning something new, and walking is new for you. Come on up, I know you can do this!”

Obviously you will never use version 1 and go for the sane version 2. If we do this for a child learning to walk, how’s it any different for an adult who “fell down” because of a break up or having trouble with his job, or some other difficulties he’s going through?

The Differences Between Pity, Compassion and Empathy

Pity = strong feeling of sadness or sympathy for someone or something; something that causes sadness or disappointment.”

I don’t want your pity!”

How many times did You hear this line in movies? How many times did You say it yourself? And how many times did you hear it from a family member,  a friend or your partner?

Why do we get resentful when we feel someone acts from a place of “pity”?

Even when we are in great distress and we truly need someone’s helping hand we tend to reject it if it comes packed in “pity”.

Although the Christian religion tells us to be merciful and have pity on the less fortunate, I believe the real meaning has been lost in translation.

I believe the right way to help someone is to use your empathy and show compassion.

Empathy = the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings”

Compassion = a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.”

The difference lies in the subtle nuances of these words.

Why I Think Pity Should Be Avoided

  • You mingle so much with the other’s distress that You start crying or feeling as bad as they are. Thus You will not be able to help in any way, because You will be as troubled as they are.
  • When you feel sad or disappointed you are putting a label on what happened to them. And you turn into an almighty judge that states that thing as “terrible”, “horrible”, “outrageous” or whatever other “negative” words. You never know the bigger picture and how things will turn out eventually. I am not saying to agree with bad behaviour or harmful situations, but just to stop adding negativity to it.
  • When you use pity you position yourself as a saviour, a superior being who helps the “victim”. This inflates your Ego and encourages the “victim” behaviour on the one you are helping this way.

How About Empathy And Compassion?

Having Empathy means

  • having the ability to “walk in someone else’s shoes” for as long as You need to connect with them in order to be able to feel what they are feeling.
  • wanting to understand what they are going through and show them they are not alone.
  • not judging their situation in any way, not making yourself the Saviour and them the Victim.
  • seeing them as they are. Offering them the space of your empathic presence allows them to feel seen and accepted. From there on, change and healing can take place.

Showing Compassion means

  • You want to help a person in need while showing your confidence in their ability to get out of that stressful situation.
  • You help someone while showing them respect.

I’ve pondered often around the meaning of these 3 words Pity, Empathy, Compassion and how we use them in our everyday lives, even when we don’t realise we do so.

I am very curious to know what’s your take on them. What is your experience with feeling or showing these emotions? Share in the comments section below and share this post if you like it 🙂

With all my love,


P.S. Here’s a beautiful song of Alanis Morissette called “Empathy”. Enjoy!

11 thoughts on “Have No Pity. Use Your Empathy And Show Compassion Instead”

  1. There is definitely a difference between helping based on a belief in their ability to triumph (divorce) or supporting them in a situation ( terminal cancer); and helping because they seem hopeless and incapable.
    Just found out that a “friend” was spending time with me purely out of pity. Not sure why, but turned out she had absolutely no interest in being more than casual acquaintances, but behaved like a friend because she felt compelled to “help” me.
    With friends like that, who needs enemies!
    Now I understand why Spaniards are adamant about not being pitied. There’s no dignity in being viewed as inferior. None.

  2. Good article. I am black, as they say, haha, and I really dislike the amount of pity that is thrown my way. Sure, empathize with my position, I’d truly appreciate that, but to pity me is generally to patronize me, and I’m going to have to pass on that.

  3. I dislike the word ‘pity’, very much! I agree with what I’ve just read about pity comes across as though you feel superior to the person going through whatever situation they’re going through?

    I would rather have my friend show compassion. Pity makes me ill and seem degrading. In addition, compassion is a virtue!

  4. Interesting. I am pondering the difference between these terms in relation to my next door neighbor. He has been losing his sight for many years due to complications of diabetes even tho he’s v watchful of his diet. 2 years ago he lost what little vision he had left. I can never know what that’s like, I can’t be empathetic by yr definition. I can only offer respect and help w whatever he needs, without pity or judgment.

    • Empathy doesn’t require that you literally experience what someone else experiences. It just requires being willing to accept and trying to understand. If you always begin from a place of love, if you respect your neighbor as a person who is as worthy of love and dignity as you, if you are willing to ask him how you can best help instead of assuming you know what’s best, if you will think about how you would feel in his position and how you would want to be treated, you’re being empathetic.

      If you act in accordance with all of that, you’re showing compassion.

  5. Many thanks. Benefited much from your article in helping me get in touch with my feelings by exploring the nuances between pity, compassion, empathy and sympathy, all of which can compel us to reach the common goal of showing fellow feeling.
    I’m a bit at odds with the negativity that is being connected with the feeling of pity. I experience it as an initial awareness of an imbalance between one persons favorable situation and an unfavorable situation in another. Is a sense of wanting to balance that imbalance unhealthful?
    I agree it is undesirable if pity leads one to deports oneself with a feeling of self-righteousness or arrogance in offering fellow feeling. But if pity is viewed as a healthful initial signal (recognizing an imbalance) that germinates a process that leads to compassion, empathy (haven’t experienced their suffering, but use your imagination to visualize how they feel) or sympathy (experienced the same suffering yourself), all leading to fellow feeling motivated by love (not self-righteousness or haughtiness), then is pity itself an unhealthful impulse. I submit that the other wonderful and wholesome qualities talked about in your article do not occur without first feeling the imbalance, caused by suffering, through an impulse of pity.
    To sound down the point; the corrupting of the feeling of pity is when one deports oneself to act with self righteousness or haughtiness (leading ones to say “I don’t want your pity”) instead of a healthful motive of love for all humanity (formerly recognized as brotherhood, but viewed by many as politically incorrect today)
    Thanks again for your fine piece.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment and for sharing your insights on this topic. Interesting point of view on the corrupting of the feeling of pity. If you see pity as awareness of an imbalance, then yes, it would be of course OK to pursue it.
      There are so many nuances, and different people assign different meanings to the same words so it is wise to get clear on what these feelings mean to you and act upon them with a pure intention. Then it doesn’t really matter how you call that initial feeling…(when I say “you” here I’m referring to a general “you” 🙂 Thanks again for being here.

  6. If you ask me pity is caused by empathy you can’t feel pity with out being able to picture how you would feel in that situation. I am in an electric wheelchair with very weak muscles so I am very used to pity but I don’t feel the need to be annoyed when someone pities me. They just understand I am in a crappy situation and that it sucks.
    For less horrible situations where you can help them compassion would be tied to both pity and empathy. Pity and empathy would just help lead to the compassionate part. Unless they feel superior to the person they are helping then it’s annoying but pity it’s self is not really only negative if you ask me.

    • I don’t think pity requires empathy. Pity just requires that you think a situation is bad. You can feel pity for someone in a wheelchair without ever considering how that person feels. “Thank God I’m not in a wheelchair,” while understandable, doesn’t require thinking beyond the situation to how you can best make the situation not-worse. (It’s rarely going to be in my power to actually make it better.)

      Empathy goes beyond it to think how you would feel in that situation, and to consider what obstacles the other person may face. For instance, I try to show consideration of those in wheelchairs by watching myself. You don’t want my rear end in your face, or to be smacked in the face with my bag (or to worry you’re going to be). You need extra space, so you have room to maneuver, so I make an effort not to crowd people using any form of mobility aid. And if I’m in conversation with a group of people, some of whom are in a wheelchair and some not, it would be frustrating if no one made eye contact with me, talking over my head, so I make sure not to do it to them. If there’s an automatic door and a manual door and there’s someone using a walker or cane or chair, I need to make sure I don’t block the automatic door for them. I either go to the manual door or proceed through the automatic door expeditiously so I don’t hold them up. If there’s no automatic door, then I hold the door, just like for someone with their arms full. (Hey, I sure appreciated held doors when I injured my rotator cuff and could only really use the one arm…especially when the door handle was on the side I injured.)

      And being limited to a wheelchair does suck, no argument. I’ve had friends in that situation, some of whom were wheelchair-bound since early childhood. I’m sorry you’re in that situation, and thankful society is (slowly) getting better about accommodating you (as they should). Yay for the ADA!


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