Pain and compassion: important difference

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Robert Maurer

Pain and compassion: important difference

Looking at someone who suffers with pain means condemning him to his suffering. Compassion, on the other hand, allows you to help him move forward. We show you the differences between these two emotions.

Last update: July 28, 2022

In the world we live in, inevitably all people will suffer at some point in their life. Due to physical illness, emotional pain, loss or lack, we all face adverse situations. As sensitive beings, contemplating another's suffering will awaken our inner universe; at this point, the difference between punishment and compassion is decisive.

They might seem similar emotions, as they both arise from empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and understand their pain.

However, feeling pain or compassion leads us to look at those who suffer with different eyes, so the actions taken as a result of the feeling are not the same.

Pain and compassion: origin

To understand the difference between pain and compassion, we can start with the definition of both of these emotions:

  • Pain is a feeling of sadness produced by another person's suffering. Suffice it to say that the term derives from the Latin poena which means "punishment, harassment, suffering".
  • Compassion is also a feeling of sadness, but it leads us to identify with the ills of the other and to try to remedy them, avoid them or alleviate their suffering.

From these two definitions we can draw important conclusions. On one side, punishment places us in a position of mere observers, distanced from the suffering of others and passive in front of it. It is an emotion of short duration and from which we perceive ourselves at a certain point as superior to the injured party.

In light of this, we are sorry for those who face a difficult economic, family, physical or emotional situation, but we know that it does not concern us personally and we are not obliged to intervene.

On the contrary, the compassion connects, allows you to identify with each other and remember the humanity shared between both. We don't look from afar, but we get involved, knowing that no one is superior and that we could all live in a similar situation. It is also a lasting feeling that leads to action.

Pain stagnates us, compassion moves us

The main difference between feeling pain and compassion is that in the first case we believe that we cannot do anything to improve the situation of the other, while in the second we are convinced that we can make a contribution.

By feeling pity, we put the other in a position of helpless victim and condemn him to suffering; on the contrary, by feeling compassion, we help him change his circumstances.

This has repercussions in terms of prosocial behavior and solidarity actions. Those who feel compassion tend to take a social interest, to help the disadvantaged and contribute to community causes. In addition, this also has repercussions on an interpersonal level.

For example, when a parent feels sorry for their child (for whatever reason), it conveys the idea that they are incapable, disadvantaged and defenseless. In reverse, feeling compassion, he understands his difficulties, but encourages him to improve.

Likewise, if some schoolmates feel sorry for a classmate, they will look at him sadly. However, if they feel compassion, they will be actively involved in helping him and improving his life.

The difference between grief and self-pity

The most damaging effects of feeling sorry are when this emotion is directed at oneself. It is bad that others look at us with pity, but if we are the first to see ourselves as victims, the suffering will intensify.

The person who feels sorry for himself feels failed, unfortunate and doomed to suffering. Following this, he is less likely to look for a way to change his situation.

Conversely, those who feel compassion understand and forgive their mistakes, treat themselves with indulgence and take responsibility for their own life. Therefore, the compassion helps reduce self-criticism, devaluation and rumination and to regulate our emotions effectively.


When faced with difficult situations, remember the negative effects of the sentence. This makes oneself and others weak.

It is compassion that unites us, which pushes us to help with the humility of knowing that no one is exempt from making mistakes or suffering.

Develop compassion and you will become a more human, more sensitive and more committed being.

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