“Helping People in the Grip of Anxiety and Depression”

By: Robin Hills


People in the grip of intense unpleasant emotions, such as depression or anxiety do not need advice, and certainly not from me!  What they need is someone who they can talk to, someone who they can open up with, and someone who will listen to them.

They certainly do not want people to sympathise with them.  Empathy is a fundamental component of both emotional and social intelligence, yet it’s a highly misunderstood term.

When people think of empathy, they often think first about sympathy and compassion. However, empathy has a much broader in scope. Empathising with another person isn’t the same as sympathising with them. They are two completely different capabilities.

Sympathy is about taking pity or feeling sorry for someone else, whereas empathy is the act of listening and understanding feelings to take on the other person’s viewpoint or perspective – what they see, feel and want – and working to truly try to understand their situation.

People who are feeling depressed and anxious will be unlikely to be looking for your sympathy.

Empathy is about accurately reading other’s feelings. It’s about respecting others’ feelings whilst creating a solution where both parties gain.

Sympathy, on the other hand, is an act of reacting to emotions to try to prevent alleviation of suffering. Sympathy is based upon pity and is not necessarily concerned with how others are feeling.

When you show sympathy, you take a position of superiority and, more often than not, you are trying to do something that will alleviate your own concerns and satisfy your own emotions.  So, sympathy is not necessarily concerned about how others are feeling – it’s more about doing something that makes you feel better.

People feeling any intense unpleasant emotions will be unlikely to be looking for your sympathy.  

Rather than showing sympathy, be kind and give them your time on their terms, not yours.  This is a more empathetic approach.

Sympathy sets people apart, whereas empathy brings people together.

Robin is based in the UK in the Greater Manchester area and is the Director of Ei4Change. With over 35 years’ successful commercial and leadership experience, he has worked in a variety of sales and marketing management roles with a wide variety of companies from small start-ups to large multinationals. These include the NHS, major pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, universities, charities, finance, and recruitment organizations.

Robin has the British Psychological Society Test User Occupational Ability (Level A) and Occupational Personality (Level B) certificates in psychometric testing. He is qualified to use trait-based assessments (NEO and Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire), type-based assessments (Myers Briggs Type Indicator Practitioner (Step I and II)) and behavioral-based assessments (Advanced DISC), and the EQ-i 2.0 assessment.

He uses all these with pragmatic business-focused applications. His special interest lies in emotional intelligence and, in particular, linking together the outputs from assessments to give real practical relevance to improve effectiveness and productivity.