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  1. #1
    Senior Member prplchknz's Avatar
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    Default Question about empathy

    so I was wondering if it's possible to empathize with someone that is going through an experience you, yourself have not gone through? I don't think it is, because you can't know what it's like. for example someone who lost a child I wouldn't be able to empathize because that has never happened to me. I wouldn't laugh, I know that much. But I really wouldn't be able to relate or be comforting.
    In no likes experiment.

    that is all

    i dunno what else to say so

  2. #2
    Senior Member two cents's Avatar
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    To some extent you are correct, being able to empathize with someone's experience depends on your having had an experience at least somewhat similar. On the other hand, I think people tend to overestimate how similar the experience has to be to the point that, taken to it's logical conclusion, would mean that no one can empathize with anyone at all because no one's experience of anything is 100% the same as someone else's.

    Using the example of losing a child, here's what I mean:

    If you've led a mostly sheltered life free from major suffering, and your deepest experience of loss was when you were 8 and your hamster died... yeah, just forget it, you won't be able to empathize with this experience. Your best bet is to express condolences (i.e. offer your sympathy, since you feel bad for them because they feel bad, even if you don't fully understand all the ways in which they feel bad) and offering to be there for them if they should need anything.

    On the other hand, even if you've never lost a child but you have lost someone very close to you who was a huge part of your life and whom you didn't expect to lose but planned to have in your life for years, that might give you some idea of what that person is feeling, at least to the extent of knowing the pain and grief of losing someone who is a big part of your life, including grieving for all the futures you may have shared together but now won't. Yeah, it's not actually the same, but you can definitely understand some of their pain. If, in addition, you also had a pet that you were very attached to and had to spend a lot of time and effort caring for and then lost it, that might get you closer to understanding how empty their home feels now without their child, how empty their days are without all the things they used to do to care for that child, how their lives might feel empty of a center, of the meaning that this caring gave them. Yeah, obviously losing a pet isn't the same as losing a child, but it can still give you more of an idea.

    Now, if you say something like "I know how you feel, because my brother died, and my dog died", you'll just make the person angry. But you can say "I know what it's like to lose someone so close to you, and how empty your life is without them", or even refer to some aspects of the experience you think they are having, like "I know how empty and hopeless you must feel right now". They might still get defensive if they know you haven't experienced the loss of a child, but then you'll know they are basically the kind of person who doesn't want you to empathize with them, and prefers to feel like their experiences are so unique they can't really be understood by others -- this isn't the most common way to feel (people generally prefer to be able to relate to others and want others to empathize), but it happens.

    And as far as having the exact same experience, I don't think people usually give much thought to the fact that specific circumstances can dramatically change people's experiences. For instance, in this case, how one person experiences having a child isn't the same thing as how another one does, so losing will be different. Compare the experience of parenthood of an estranged father who, after the divorce, doesn't feel like having a connection with his kid even if he has the option, and mostly just sends some money or a gift for their birthday and x-mas, to the experience of parenthood of a father of a special needs child who is extremely invested in accommodating said special needs and makes daily efforts not only to care for his child but to enrich their life, to interact with them, to share their experience. Guess what, these two fathers will experience the untimely death of their child very, VERY differently.

    So it's not enough to have "the same" experience (i.e. losing a child) to actually have the same experience (i.e. emotional reaction), and, ultimately, no one's experiences of anything are precisely the same. I think it's important to understand this and both to make an effort to empathize with people across some difference in circumstances and to accept empathy from others even if you know they can't really know exactly how you feel. The alternative is descending into solipsism, and alienation, and no one gains anything from that.
    And that's my two cents on the subject.

  3. #3
    Senior Member prplchknz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by two cents View Post


    offer your sympathy, since you feel bad for them because they feel bad.
    That reminds me of a situation with a friend of mine, saying she cared about something, wanted me to find something out for her. and I go "No, I don't really care" and another friend goes "I care because she cares" and that made no sense to me, because I didn't care and it wasn't life or death. Like if I don't care why would I care that they care?
    In no likes experiment.

    that is all

    i dunno what else to say so

  4. #4
    Mud and rain and chaos... TickTock's Avatar
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    Yes it is possible. Otherwise there would only be compassion for people from people who have experienced the same thing. Empathy is feeling the pain that someone is going through, it's not necessary to have gone through it, even if someone has gone through the same experience their individual experience of it will be different.
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  5. #5
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
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    Empathy means to know what the other is feeling without feeling it oneself.

    While sympathy means feeling the same as the other.

    And to get our minds around empathy, we know a psychotherapist and a torturer both need to be able to empathise: that is, to know how the other is feeling without feeling it oneself.

    Of course the psychotherapist and the torturer are at different ends of the spectrum, but both need to empathise to do their work.

  6. #6
    Post Human Post Qlip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mole View Post
    Empathy means to know what the other is feeling without feeling it oneself.

    While sympathy means feeling the same as the other.

    And to get our minds around empathy, we know a psychotherapist and a torturer both need to be able to empathise: that is, to know how the other is feeling without feeling it oneself.

    Of course the psychotherapist and the torturer are at different ends of the spectrum, but both need to empathise to do their work.

    You've got the definitions swapped.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Qlip View Post
    You've got the definitions swapped.
    They always tell me this but they're wrong.

    It was the Ancient Greeks who created the distinction between empathy and sympathy and the distinction holds today except for those too lazy to learn English.

  8. #8
    Post Human Post Qlip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mole View Post
    They always tell me this but they're wrong.

    It was the Ancient Greeks who created the distinction between empathy and sympathy and the distinction holds today except for those too lazy to learn English.
    Common usage is correct, yo, even if using words by their original meanings would make you gay as a blue-jay.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Qlip View Post
    Common usage is correct, yo, even if using words by their original meanings would make you gay as a blue-jay.
    Common usage in the case of empathy is vulgar, particularly when empathy is so helpful to those who are suffering.

    It seems a no brainer to me.

    If we are suffering with a broken leg, we want the doctor to know how we are feeling without feeling it themself, so they can help us. This is called empathy.

    And if we are suffering a mental illness, we want our psychiatrists or our psychotherapist to know how we are feeling without feeling it themselves, so they can help us.

    And to make matters worse for you, sympathy is natural but empathy is unnatural and requires professional training.

    I have offered to teach empathy training on this site but have had no takers because the fatuous narcissists believe they are already natural empaths.

    God help me, because these 'natural empaths' are unable to help me when I am suffering.

  10. #10
    Post Human Post Qlip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mole View Post
    Common usage in the case of empathy is vulgar.
    Common usage allows for direct and meaningful communication, something that people who are both empathic (feeling as others) and sympathetic (caring for the situation of others) appreciate.

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