Sympathy, Empathy, or Compassion


By Cathy Eck



One day, my ex-husband was sharing childhood paperboy memories.  He talked about getting up early and usual paperboy stuff.  Then he got teary eyed and said, “There was one women who inspired me.  She didn’t have any money, but she had a big plum tree.  Often she didn’t pay me, but she shook her plum tree and let me keep whatever plums fell to the ground.”

By this time, I’m about ready to lose it because I can see where this is headed, but I took a deep breath and allowed him to continue.  My ex-husband was trained to believe that sympathy is kindness.  “She was so poor, Cathy, (sob, sob) that one time she didn’t have any wood for her fire so she went and got a railroad tie from the train tracks and carried it all the way up the hill by herself.  Can you imagine?”  The only thing I’m imagining is how fucking strong this woman is to get a railroad tie out of the tracks and carry it up a steep hill.

He was sure we’d weep together and wallow in sympathy for the old woman.  But I had no sympathy because the woman didn’t deserve it.

First of all, a newspaper is not a necessity for life.  If you don’t have the money to pay the lousy nickel (this was in the 60’s), you cancel the damn paper.  Second, I wondered how the railroad company felt about missing a highly important railroad tie.  I was appalled with the woman.   I was also appalled at my ex-husband’s lack of discrimination.  He truly couldn’t see that she was a great con artist.  She got a little kid to take a plum for a paper and was labeled inspiring in the process.  She got people to feel sorry for her instead of using her clearly enormous physical strength to earn a living.  I now call this the victimhood advantage; and some people play it like a harp.

This event was my first big insight into the nature of sympathy, empathy, and compassion.  Sympathy isn’t natural.  It’s a learned behavior that is socially correct in the illusion.  If you want to get out of the illusion, you have to understand that compassion is the ticket out of Dodge.

When my ex-husband wasn’t paid for his paper, he felt emotion.  His emotion was saying: “Don’t believe her.”  A normal reaction would have been to stop delivering her a paper.  She simply couldn’t afford it.  But his trained reaction was that she was some sort of hero.  This is level confusion at its best.

When we feel sorry for another, we accept their illusory view, their beliefs, as true.  Our mind says that if it is true for them, it’s true for us.  Then we create the same crap in our life and say “I guess they were right.”  It keeps both people stuck.

Later in life, my ex-husband still created nice people who cheated him out of what he deserved, and he wondered why.  You can’t drive very far if you have one foot on the gas and one on the break.  Sympathy is like that.  You give attention to the problem while trying to solve it.

In the illusion, sympathy feels like attention and alleviates guilt.  When you lose interest in the illusion, you don’t want sympathy.  Sympathy suddenly feels like hate; and that is what it is when you take the wrapper off.  If you keep another stuck in their problem, do you love them or hate them?  When I screw up, I want people to remind me to let go, not people to reward the problem.  I want freedom from problems.



Empathy is useful inside and outside the illusion.  It’s a bridge between worlds.  Empathy is the ability to walk in another’s shoes and see if what you are about to do is win-win.  When we let go of our beliefs about sympathy, we naturally move up to empathy.  We can’t harm others (although we might burst their false bubble).  Sympathy happens after the problem occurs; it’s a reaction to the effect.  Empathy prevents problems from occurring; it affects the cause.  If everyone had empathy and operated from win-win, we’d have no conflicts and few, if any, problems.



Compassion is totally different from sympathy or empathy; it is what Jesus taught.  Compassion corrects the cause of any problem.  In compassion, you don’t believe anything that doesn’t feel good.  You know it’s false.  You are clear that what feels bad is false, even if it looks real.  You recognize that the person with the problem is caught in an illusory nightmare, and you let go of any belief in your mind that they can’t heal themselves or fix their problem.  You trust in their ability to return to their True Self, and you do as little as possible for them.  You realize that their True Self is powerful beyond measure and can handle this better than your false mind.

Compassion allows people to change, heal, and grow.  Empathy allows us to live together peacefully.  Sympathy keeps everyone stuck in codependency that is relabeled caring and love.

Now I know this is not an easy thing to grasp at first.  But when I’ve helped people to experience this shift, they feel the magic of release.  Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they cry, and sometimes they just sit in awe because they’ve had a glimpse of their True Self.  In true compassion, miracles happen.  I’ve seen diseases disappear, relationship problems mend, and people forget why they called me because they can’t remember their problem.  That is how I know they’ve found the truth and healed the cause.  We all fell into the illusion, and we learned to be socially sympathetic; but when we let sympathy go, we’re reborn as our True Selves with compassion.


Here’s my radio interview on the Victimhood Advantage if you want some dessert.


Cathy Eck has been researching life's greatest mysteries for over two decades. She knows that everyone deserves to fulfill their dreams and fulfill their destiny. It is only the false beliefs that we hold in our mind that keep us from achieving that end. As we let those beliefs go, life gets much easier and more joyous. In the course of her research, Cathy has learned many tricks to make the journey much easier. She shares what she has learned on and