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What is ampathy?

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

You cannot empathise, I don’t want your sympathy, but maybe, we could compromise, and use a bit of AMPATHY?

Empathy, that old chestnut, ‘walk a mile in another’s person’s shoes’. To use your own experiences to ‘understand’ what it is that affects someone else . Share your common, unrelated experience of catching the flu, to your friends recent bout of corona! ‘….I know, I know, it was like a bad cold, but worse!….’

As Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale University explains ‘…. By empathy I mean feeling the feelings of other people. So if you’re in pain and I feel your pain — I am feeling empathy toward you. If you’re being anxious, I pick up your anxiety. If you’re sad and I pick up your sadness, I’m being empathetic….’

But, you cannot walk a mile in my lack of shoes! And I wouldn’t wish it upon you. What I want is ampathy

Sympathy, I don’t need it, I certainly don’t deserve it.

While Empathy is the term we use for the ability to understand other people's feelings as if we were having them ourselves. ... Sympathy refers to the ability to take part in someone else's feelings, mostly by feeling sorrowful about their misfortune.

Too many people, upon their good fortune of meeting me, express their sorrow for my predicament. ‘….Sorry?….’ I reply, ‘….why thank you, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t your fault….’

I don’t blame you for my ‘condition’. Don’t get me wrong, I accept that your sympathy is well placed, it may come from a place of love, but, you’re not to blame, I’m OK, I don’t need your sympathy. But I’m up for some ampathy!

So, what is ampathy?

Ampathy is the direct opposite of empathy! While it has a satisfying degree of alliteration, ampathy is the antithesis of sympathy.

Unless you have no arms and legs, I’m afraid to say that you’ve no real, lived experience of being a quadruple amputee. You cannot be truly ‘empathetic’.

Unless you were responsible for me losing 4 out of my 5 favourite appendages, sorry, not sorry! You may be sad that it happened, but, if you were not actually responsible for my lack of bits, and you weren’t, then don’t apologise or feel sorry for me! I’m truly not deserving of your sympathy.

Ampathy is more akin to, and best friends with, compassion. Compassion means that I give appropriate weight to your situation, I value it. I care about you, but don’t, or can’t, necessarily pick up your feelings.

You don’t know, nor understand, what I can or can’t do. So, don’t assume, ask!

Ampathy is very similar to the tried and true concept of companioning.

Companioning involves a person, without agenda, nor preconceptions [like empathy or sympathy] sitting [or standing, if you have legs!] alongside another person and simply making, and welcoming, a connection.

Ampathy doesn’t aim to solve problems, or find ultimate meaning. Any meaning it may help find is limited to the kind of meaning that comes about from the display of human decency, or, compassion.

What companioning, and, ergo ampathy, does do is allow ‘us’ to feel acknowledged.

And when we are acknowledged, we feel truly heard, we don’t feel alone. And when we don’t feel alone, the world’s a better place.

I don’t expect you to be empathetic, you can’t. I don’t need your sympathy, not your fault, I don’t blame you.

Maybe I do need your help! That’s cool too. Just ask, then we have shared a true ampathitic moment!

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