This brilliant animation on the difference between empathy and sympathy has dialogue from this talk by Brené Brown. The whole talk is well worth listening to, and this animation is a wonderful extract of one of her points, where the art beautifully and whimsically illustrates the content.
At one point in the longer talk, Brown says "Our capacity for whole-heartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted: which is a terrible thing, but a truthful thing." Empathy requires the capacity to be present to another – which includes being present to our own pain. This requires vulnerability, letting down the defenses around our hearts.
She speaks of this in terms of interpersonal relationships, but from my bodywork practice in Seattle – whether the client is seeing me for Rolfing® Structural Integration, craniosacral work, visceral work, whatever – I feel the question is also one to address to ourselves, to the wounded places, to the parts in pain. People don't like to feel pain, and we tend to defend against our mental and physical pain. I hear clients say things like "I hate my body," or "I wish I could get rid of this bad knee, just cut it off!", and they usually are oblivious to the violence they are expressing towards themselves.
I work with whole-body integration, with uniting the mind, body, emotions, and spirit. That means letting the mind be aware of the hurt, letting the heart feel the pain, letting your being feel how physical pain affects your spirit. Going back to the animation above, the question becomes "Can you be empathic to your own pain?" Instead of doing the sympathy trip – telling yourself something like "my [knee] sucks, but at least I have xyz in my life" – can you open your heart to that body part, can you fully feel in your body what is going on in the tissue rather than armoring against it? Can you wholeheartedly be with your own pain?
While my work could probably help many people without that kind of emotional vulnerability on their part, multidimensional transformation comes from being deeply human, which means opening to all aspects of ourselves. Being human is being vulnerable. The more of you is available in receiving bodywork, the deeper the work can penetrate, the more it can support self-healing and be more than a quick fix.