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Brené Brown | What Is Empathy?

Brené Brown
September 13, 2023

Dr Brené Brown: Empathy is feeling WITH people
Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. In this beautifully animated RSA Short, research professor and best-selling author Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.

The Importance of an

Empathetic Connection


So, what is empathy and why is it VERY different than sympathy? Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. It’s very interesting. Theresa Wiseman is a nursing scholar who studied very diverse professions where empathy is relevant and came up with four qualities of empathy. Perspective taking – ability to take the perspective of another person, or recognize their perspective as their truth. Staying out of judgment – not easy when you enjoy it as much as most of us do. Recognizing emotion in other people, then communicating that.

Empathy is feeling WITH people. I always think of empathy as this kind of sacred space. When someone’s in a deep hole and they shout from the bottom and they say “I’m stuck. It’s dark. I’m overwhelmed.” and we look and we say “Hey” and climb down and say “I know what it’s like down here, and you’re not alone.”… Sympathy is (staying out of the hole, looking in and saying “Oooofff!…it’s bad for you? That must be hard. Hmm yeah…No. Not for me. You probably wont be down there forever.”

Empathy is a choice and it’s a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling. Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with, “At least…” Yeah. And we do it all the time because, you know what? Someone shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to “silver lining”. We’re trying to put a silver lining around it. So, “I had a miscarriage.” “At least you know you can get pregnant.” “I think my marriage is falling apart.” “At least you have a marriage.” “John’s getting kicked out of school.” “At least Sarah is an A-student.” One of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations is we try to make things better. If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I’d rather you say, “I don’t even know what to say. I’m just so glad you told me.” Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.

Voice: Dr Brené Brown Animation:

Katy Davis (AKA Gobblynne)

Production and Editing: Al Francis-Sears and Abi Stephenson

About the Author

Brené Brown