Can Sympathy Really Help an Alcoholic To Stop Drinking?

hands touching

One of my pet peeves is when someone apologizes for something they didn’t do. Especially when they say “I’m Sorry” over and over again.

It seems like either they don’t mean it or they don’t understand who’s responsible for what happened.

I really think they do this because they feel sorry for the person who IS responsible.

I’m sure they mean well, but I think these folks get confused between sympathy and empathy when it comes to helping an alcoholic to stop drinking.

Let me share how I sort out the difference.

So What is Sympathy?

I imagine someone with a shovel digs a hole in the ground, jumps in and can’t get out. They yell for help as YOU come along.

You want to be helpful, after all you are a kind and loving person. It wouldn’t be possible for you to just walk by and leave the poor helpless person in the hole.


Even if you KNOW they dug the hole and they actually jumped in.

You still can’t turn away.

You offer them your hand. They gladly accept and pull you into the pit.

With all the sympathy you have, you allow them to climb out by standing on your shoulders.

There’s a little problem here. You are now IN the hole and they are OUT…digging another hole.

It takes quite a while but you finally get yourself OUT of the hole. Tired and exhausted you hear someone yelling…Help.

Of course, you can’t let a helpless person suffer, so you help again, offering an hand and being dragged into the hole.

They jump out from off your back.

This process seems to be repeated almost endlessly.

I call it the best example I know of sympathy.

Empathy On the Otherhand…

When the first hole is dug,the offer of your hand may still result in being pulled into the hole…For the last time.

When you realize all your effort to help has resulted in another hole dug, you look…

sure enough, they’re in the pit again.

Guess what…this time you don’t join them again in the hole.

Instead, you bring a rope or a ladder to support them in getting out.

When they tell you they’re afraid to climb ladders, or they can’t get a grip on the rope. You simply use the megaphone and say, “The same shovel that got you into the hole can get you out”.

This is the best example of the difference between empathy and sympathy.

It’ss not that you don’t care about what has happens to them. It’s an understanding of who is responsible for what has happened.

It’s about helping an alcoholic to empower themselves to stop drinking and make better choices so they’ll become accountable for their own behavior.

With sympathy both you and the other person continue to be hurt again and again. Empathy helps YOU to remain okay while you encourage them to become okay.

What do you have to lose?

Get out of the pits and stand your ground…with empathy.

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