Empathy or Sympathy – Which Causes a Fight?

Empathy or Sympathy:


        Hi all. I am Laurie and I want to help parents. Mainly parents with children who have behavioral problems, and foster and adoption issues. This is the basis of this blog. Please check out some posts.

My last post was about the difference between an owner and a steward. Along with the difference between being in control and being controlling. Of course I am referring to parenting and the position we are to take in our homes. Check out my last post.

Today I am talking about the difference between empathy and sympathy and which one causes a fight. In this post, empathy and sympathy are in reference to foster and adoption children. Understanding the difference will sometimes help create the right kind of fight.

Empathy and Sympathy Definitions:

  • Empathy = the ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual’s emotional state.
  • Sympathy = a feeling of pity or sorrow for the distress of another, commiseration.


When relating to a foster or adopted child it is important to always use empathy instead of sympathy because of the difference in the two definitions above. Empathy gives the ability to comprehend and share your child’s feelings. It’s important to identifying and understand where they are at and how they feel.

Your children need to know you are looking at their perspective, experiences and motivation as you walk with them through the events they are facing. But please stay in a state of empathy so they will not emotionally manipulate you. Don’t let them draw you into enabling them from being responsible for their wrong behaviors. We’re not to be their enablers.


        Sympathy on the other hand draws us into their self-pity state which is not good for you or your child. To commiserate with anyone I’ve come to understand is wrong. Each person is to have their own feelings and we are to have our own. When we cross this line, we get into trouble. We are to identify and share with understanding but not take on the feelings of our children or anyone else.

If your child is RAD they intend to emotionally manipulate others. They live in self-pity and sorrow and want others to commiserate with them. Wrong! Please don’t do this because it keeps them in a place of brokenness and teaches them to get what they need in the wrong way.

When they emotionally manipulate, it gives them power to control anyone who is sympathizing with them. They learn to live life through manipulation which isn’t productive or healthy. It will be counterproductive on all levels of their life.

Which Causes a Fight?

        I have to say it is empathy that causes a fight inside our children. We want this to happen because they need to be mad their self-pity and sorrow doesn’t emotionally manipulate. They can’t continue to emotionally manipulate if they are to mature and succeed. Then maybe they will stop and choose to be responsible for their own behaviors and emotions.

When the fight that is raging inside of them comes out because you’re using empathy instead of sympathy – don’t engage the fight. Let them engage their own fight so they have to deal with their own stuff. This is the goal because no one gets healed when someone else takes responsibility. They have to engage, take responsibility and feel their own feelings for themselves.


I’ll be here next week. Blessings!! Until then…