Long have I been trying to hammer out the nuances and subtle differences between these two words and these two states (being empathetic versus being sympathetic).This is a bit of what I have been looking at to help me.
I rather like the webster.com definitions:
1: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
2: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
1 a: an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other
2 a: inclination to think or feel alike : emotional or intellectual accord <in sympathy with their goals> b: feeling of loyalty : tendency to favor or support <republican sympathies>
3 a: the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another b: the feeling or mental state brought about by such sensitivity <have sympathy for the poor>4: the correlation existing between bodies capable of communicating their vibrational energy to one another through some medium
The Oxford English Dictionary says:
Empathy-The power of projecting one’s personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.
Sympathy– A real or supposed) affinity between certain things, by virtue of which they are similarly or correspondingly affected by the same influence, affect or influence one another (esp. in some occult way), or attract or tend towards each other.
Empathy is the capacity to recognise or understand another’s state of mind or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself. It may be described metaphorically as an emotional kind of resonance or mirroring.
Sympathy is a social affinity in which one person stands with another person, closely understanding his or her feelings. It also can mean being affected by like feelings or emotions. Thus the essence of sympathy is that one has a strong concern for the other person. Sympathy should not be confused with empathy (more than simply the recognition of another’s suffering, empathy is actually sharing another’s suffering, if only briefly).
I always thought of empathy is being about to sense people’s emotions, acutely tell how people are or might feel. “Feeling for them”, if you will. Sympathy, I always thought of, as a sense of feeling the same way as someone else, taking on their emotion and feeling it the same.