Previously published in Yahoo Voices
The meaning of sympathy according to dictionary.com is
Harmony of or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another.
The harmony of feeling naturally existing between persons of like tastes or opinion or of congenial dispositions.
The fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration
As you can see it is a sentiment of sharing with another human being.
While the dictionary definition of empathy is:
The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
As you can see the meanings are similar. Sometimes they are used interchangeably.
Wise Geek explains the difference, “Sympathy is feeling for a person without really understanding.” However, the site does mention sympathy meaning "feeling sorry for somebody."
This example of the meaning of sympathy weighs deeply upon our society. It now is taken in a negative context in our society.
My thoughts and distaste for the expression "get over it!"
People who object to having somebody feel sorry for them are correct. If people feel sorry for you it infers that somehow they think they are better than you. I can give the example of a rich lady looking down on a washerwoman and feeling sorry for her plight in life to reiterate my point.
On the other hand, as a therapist I was trained to employ empathy when dealing with my clients. My part in the therapy started with understanding my client; not looking down upon them. Counselors follow the example of Socrates who stated in order to understand someone you must walk in his shoes. This does not mean literally walking in someone's shoes. You don't take your shoes off and put on the client's, nor to you abandon your own life to live as a washerwoman to experience what your client is going through. However, you do listen without judgment and try to understand what the client is going through.
The layperson is bombarded every day with pop psychology especially when it comes to grieving. Therapists such as I know full well that grieving is a process and it takes time to get over. These non-professional pop psychologists have somehow gotten the notion that there is a magic number and all of a sudden a person should not be grieving anymore. They take it upon themselves to decide what that time frame is.
I have seen it over and over again on internet social media sites where someone is grieving over a loss of person or even a pet and somebody comments with "get over it." I cringe when I hear that expression.
To a grieving person this expression is not helpful, it is hurtful; it demonstrates both a lack of sympathy and empathy.
Yesterday I was reading an article where a woman was grieving over the death of her grandmother.
She got that dreadful comment, "get over it" and she retorted, "You don't have to be so mean about it.
Her comment summed up the feelings of a wounded person.
I really felt for this woman and I must ask everyone who reads this article to refrain from using the expression "Get over it" and to leave that part of therapy to the health professionals. Simply say I'm sorry or if you don't know what to say to the person online then don't say anything at all.