Understanding Apathy, Antipathy, Compassion and Empathy

A person’s emotions can range from disliking something, not caring about something, having sympathy, and even feeling someone else’s emotional pain. Psychologists have terms for these emotions.  Apathy, antipathy, compassion, and empathy all mean different things on the spectrum of human emotion.  Each one has a role in human behavior.


According to doctors at WebMD, apathy is the feeling of not wanting to do anything.  A person with apathy feels a lack of interest or concern for things they may have once enjoyed.  Apathy causes difficulty functioning in life because it makes a person feel like they don’t care about what happens to them. 

The symptoms of apathy are described as:

  • Lacking the effort or energy to do everyday things
  • Depending on other people to plan or carry out activities
  • Having no desire to learn new things, meet new people, or have new experiences
  • Lack of concern about problems that affect a person’s life
  • Feeling no emotion regardless if good or bad things happen

Using alcohol or other drugs may produce a temporary feeling of apathy.  Severe apathy interferes with a person’s ability to function at work and home.  Apathy can be dangerous because it may lead people to stop taking care of themselves or manage their problems.


According to the dictionary, antipathy is a strong dislike or aversion to something or someone.  Antipathy may not be based on reality.  Instead, a person experiencing antipathy may dislike someone or something without being able to state a reason.  Antipathy is often based on unconscious bias or discomfort in confronting personal feelings.  

Antipathy is not considered a mental health issue.  Antipathy is regarded as a social or personal issue, and people may not even be aware of how their behavior is affected by antipathy feelings.  One example is how society doesn’t openly address mental health issues. 

Although progress has been made in discussing and treating mental health problems, many people still feel uncomfortable talking about the subject. People often avoid openly discussing mental health issues or seeking treatment because of their antipathy toward the idea of needing mental health help.


When a person feels sympathy or pity for someone else, they are exhibiting compassion.  Compassion causes someone to feel sorry for others.  A person may feel compassion for another person’s health problems or people affected by natural disasters or social injustice.  Compassion may cause someone to donate money to a cause or write their legislators, but it doesn’t fully engage a person how empathy does.


Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and accept others’ situations and points of view.  Empathy causes a person to feel the way another person feels.  It goes beyond compassion by causing a person to feel like a situation is happening to them.  

When people display empathy, they connect with others on an emotional level.  Empathy builds trust through openly sharing thoughts and feelings without judgment.  Researchers believe that empathy is the cornerstone of effective communication.  While empathy is a human emotion, the skills needed to show empathy can be learned and developed.

The concepts of apathy, antipathy, compassion, and empathy are connected. Since empathy is the driver of effective communication, the other emotions fall short of bringing people together.  Compassion may be kind, but it’s not a shared experience or emotion. Apathy and antipathy are the opposites of empathy.  They are a disconnection from other people and even a person’s own feelings.  

Apathy and antipathy can be dangerous because they may cause a person to stop functioning effectively.  Compassion is a valuable trait, but it doesn’t produce the same connection that empathy does. By using empathy, people can reach a greater understanding of others.  

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