Message from Mary Nordtvedt, RN, BSN
Faith Community Nurse


Mary Nordtvedt

From Your Faith Community Nurse ...


“Empathy has no script, there is no right way or wrong way to do it. It is simply listening holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message of “You are not alone”     Brene Brown

Empathy Mary's column

In our faith community and in our lives, we frequently are called upon to care about someone  who is experiencing a life challenge. Some of us struggle with this and instead of being an empathic listener, we choose to share our own story or try to fix what the person has shared. We offer sympathy instead of empathy.


Brene Brown is a licensed social worker who is a research professor at the University of Houston. She has written many books and shares wisdom as to a caring response to offer others when they are hurting.

She states, “Empathy fuels connection while sympathy drives disconnection.” “Empathy is I’m feeling with you. Sympathy, I’m feeling for you.” Watch her 3 minute animated video on the topic at


What is the best way to be there for someone when they are hurting or experiencing challenging times? We should offer empathy not sympathy. How does one do that?

Brene Brown offers these tips using Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes to empathy:


¨ Perspective taking: Perspective taking refers to being willing and able to see and feel the world through the eyes of the other.


¨ Just listen.  My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:1


¨ Staying out of judgment: Judging another person’s pain or challenge takes away from the person what they are feeling. Refrain from comments that invalidate their experience or make them feel wrong such as, “I don’t know why you’re getting so upset about that.”


¨ Try to understand the other person’s feelings: Look within yourself and remember what it is like to have the feeling the other person seems to be feeling. You may choose to ask them if you have identified what they’re feeling correctly by saying something like, “It sounds like you are feeling really frustrated” or “I’m sorry, it sounds like you’re feeling so sad about that.”


¨ Communicate that you understand what they are feeling: Instead of saying, “At least you still have …..”. Try to communicate that you understand their feelings. You might say something like, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting.”



As a part of a faith community, we have the privilege of sharing the hope that God gives us as we journey through challenges. Are there ways that their faith has given them strength? Do they have scripture verses that give them comfort? Are they angry with God? Listen and be supportive.


Sharing empathy rather than sympathy takes practice. Join me in practicing authentic caring and empathy.





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Last Published: February 21, 2020 12:23 PM
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