When you are going through troubles, is it better to have someone to talk to that is empathetic or is understanding? Not surprisingly, you might quickly answer that they are the same. At which point I would disagree.
Empathy is very comforting. When someone shows empathy they hug, listen, and smile. They never challenge what you are saying. They easily say that they understand.
But do they really? If you have never raised a child who had severe health issues how can we really empathize with a parent who is in this situation and hurts badly? You can add whatever bad situation you have listened to but never lived. The initial question of this paragraph remains the same.
The distinction is important because there is a huge difference between empathy and understanding when listening to someone who hurts. Especially for the person that is hurting.
While empathy is soothing it is rarely helpful. There is an emptiness to empathy when you are the person hurting. Nothing changes and nothing gets resolved in either your heart or mind when you share your pain. The quick release of verbalizing your tension feels good for the moment but quickly disappears.
Speaking to someone who has lived in and around a similar situation (it does not have to be identical) is much more helpful when you hurt. You are given an opportunity to learn about the confusion the other person faced when in the same type of situation.
How did they cope? What did they learn from their struggle? How did things change over time? So many questions that they may have real life answers to.
As you share your struggles with each other, you soon find comfort in talking to someone who really understands what you are going through. Their suggestions and example gives us hope and things to try to help us get through our painful situation.
Whenever we are struggling and hurting, we don’t understand that we need others to help re-balance ourselves and find new directions and meanings to help us to endure and continue.
Never be jealous. Empathizing with a friend is an act of kindness that is well received. Finding someone who has walked down the road you are now on, has ten times the positive effect that empathy alone cannot give.