Empathy is, at its simplest level an awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people (feeling with that person or understanding from their perspective). It is a key link between self and others, it is how we as individuals understand what others are experiencing as if we were experiencing it ourselves. Empathy is a complex process that involves a number brain regions and is very different to sympathy. Sympathy might be considered as “feeling for or sorry for someone” without it being necessary to understanding someone’s experience.
Compassion in its most basic form, is an enhanced sensitivity to the challenges and suffering in both self and others, with a committed intent to try and alleviate and prevent it. Being compassionate does not necessarily involve empathy, however both qualities make up our affiliation system which connects us to others. It is believed that our levels of compassionate intent can also serve to enhance our levels of empathetic awareness.