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Pity vs. Empathy: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 24, 2024
Pity is feeling sorrow for others' misfortunes, often with a sense of superiority, while empathy involves understanding and sharing others' feelings as if they were one's own.

Key Differences

Pity is an emotional response that acknowledges someone else's misfortunes, often accompanied by feelings of sorrow or sympathy. Empathy, in contrast, goes deeper, involving an emotional understanding where one vicariously experiences the feelings of another.
Pity can sometimes create a sense of distance or superiority towards the person in distress, while empathy fosters a sense of shared experience and equality. Pity is more about feeling sorry for someone, whereas empathy is about feeling with them.
Pity often leads to a desire to help, but it can be driven by feelings of discomfort or a wish to alleviate one's own discomfort about the situation. Empathy, on the other hand, motivates compassionate action based on a deep understanding of what the other person is going through.
In pity, there is an emotional detachment, where the observer does not necessarily share the feelings of the person suffering. In empathy, the emotional boundaries are more blurred, creating a shared emotional experience.
Pity is typically directed at negative situations, focusing on suffering or misfortune. Empathy, however, can be applied to a broader range of emotions, including joy, excitement, and grief, allowing for a fuller understanding of the human experience.

Comparison Chart

Emotional Response

Feeling sorrow for others' misfortunes
Understanding and sharing others' feelings


Often implies a sense of superiority
Involves equality and shared experience

Motivation for Action

Sometimes driven by discomfort
Driven by deep understanding and connection

Emotional Involvement

Detached, feeling sorry for someone
Deeply involved, feeling with someone

Scope of Application

Focused on negative situations
Broad, covering a range of emotions

Pity and Empathy Definitions


Sympathy for others' suffering or misfortune.
She felt pity for the lost puppy on the street.


The ability to vicariously experience others' emotions.
His empathy allowed him to connect deeply with his patients.


Compassion for others in unfortunate situations.
Pity moved her to donate to the homeless shelter.


Understanding and sharing another's feelings.
Her empathy for her friend's loss was palpable.


A sense of sadness for someone else's plight.
There was a look of pity in her eyes as she listened.


Sharing the emotional state of another.
Empathy made her cry during the movie, feeling the character's pain.


A feeling of sorrow caused by others' distress.
His story of struggle evoked a deep sense of pity.


Compassionate understanding of another's emotional state.
His empathy helped bridge the gap in their misunderstanding.


Feeling sorry for someone's miseries.
He couldn't help but feel pity for his opponent's injury.


Emotional resonance with another person's experience.
Through empathy, she could understand her child's fears.


Sympathy and sorrow aroused by the misfortune or suffering of another.


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.


A matter of regret
It's a pity she can't attend the reception.


The projection of one's own feelings or thoughts onto something else, such as an object in a work of art or a character in a novel or film.


Identification with or understanding of the thoughts, feelings, or emotional state of another person.
She had a lot of empathy for her neighbor; she knew what it was like to lose a parent too.


Capacity to understand another person's point of view or the result of such understanding.


A paranormal ability to psychically read another person's emotions.




Understanding and entering into another's feelings


Can pity be patronizing?

Yes, pity can sometimes come across as patronizing or condescending.

Does pity require understanding someone's experience?

Not necessarily; it's more about feeling sorry for their situation.

What is pity?

Pity is feeling sorrow for someone else's misfortune or suffering.

What defines empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Is empathy always positive?

Generally, empathy is seen as a positive, connecting emotion.

How does empathy affect relationships?

Empathy can deepen relationships through shared understanding.

Is pity a form of sympathy?

Yes, pity is a form of sympathy towards others' distress.

Can empathy be learned?

Yes, empathy skills can be developed with practice and awareness.

How is empathy shown?

Through understanding, listening, and emotionally connecting with others.

Is pity helpful in supporting others?

It can be, but it's often more about the giver's feelings than the receiver's needs.

Is feeling pity bad?

Not necessarily, but it's more superficial compared to empathy.

What makes empathy important in communication?

It allows for a deeper understanding and connection between people.

Does pity involve an emotional connection?

Pity does not typically involve a deep emotional connection.

How does empathy differ from compassion?

Empathy is feeling with someone, while compassion involves a desire to help.

Can pity lead to helpful actions?

Yes, it can motivate actions to alleviate others' suffering.

Is it possible to develop more empathy?

Yes, through practices like active listening and perspective-taking.

How do children learn empathy?

Through modeling, teaching, and experiencing empathetic interactions.

Can empathy lead to emotional fatigue?

Yes, excessive empathy without self-care can lead to emotional fatigue.

Can you feel both pity and empathy for someone?

Yes, it's possible to feel both, but they are different in depth and nature.

Why is empathy important in society?

It fosters understanding, tolerance, and meaningful connections among people.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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