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Thread: Sympathy vs Empathy. Why is empathy more highly regarded?

  1. #11


    Quote Originally Posted by Burning Rave View Post
    Just a warning, I would keep away from talking about Fi and Fe in this manner.

    But I guess it is because you "aren't" actually understanding that person's side. Some people just WANT you to understand where they are coming from. But for others, they just want you to "help" them, even if you don't understand where they are coming from.

    If there is some type of connection, it makes things so much easier on some levels. Likewise, being empathetic has no place in other scenarios.

    People can be altruistic as well as selfish when using empathy/sympathy.

    Avoid explicit definitions of sympathy and empathy or discussions of any cognitive functions as well.

    All Ye who pass this point are DOOOOOMMED........

  2. #12


    Quote Originally Posted by fecaleagle View Post
    Ideally, empathy followed by sympathy would be best. I didn't mean to imply that people either have one or the other, but I was breaking it down into extremes for a hypothetical evalulation. But I just don't get the fuss about empathy alone, whereas sympathy alone seems like it should be valued equally (assuming it is not misdirected, immature, etc, like you mentioned). But I guess I assumed that sympathy that is not genuine doesn't count as sympathy. I was referring to sympathy in it's pure form.

    Wouldn't a purely empathetic person be more incline to say "aww I know exactly how this person feels and I can feel it myself on their behalf, I hope they can find some help and feel better, but I gotta get back to work" whereas pure sympathy would say "dang I don't know how this person feels but I can logically deduce that they feel some degree of crappiness, so I will do my best to make them feel better"? Assuming equal levels of selfishness (if that can be separated from the concepts of empathy/sympathy) in both individuals
    Discarding the actual definitions, it seems that some folks do not want others to tell them what to do to solve a problem, or even solve the probem for them, but instead seek another to calibrate how they feel about the problem. Once they share how they feel and discuss this with another, to be certain their feelings are reasonable, they identify their own solution. Thus for these folks, perhaps having someone simply listen and question and listen is more useful, ie one who appears compassionate and caring, even if they dont act in any way.

  3. #13
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    I hear you!

  4. #14
    Alchemist of life Array Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fecaleagle View Post
    But yeah I guess what I didn't consider is that you can have good/bad empathy along with good/bad sympathy (or maybe pure and empty would be better descriptions). It seems like people are receptive to empathy regardless of whether it is "good or bad"; like they don't even care to analyze the intent. They just want to be emotionally understood. And that is frustrating to me and probably many INTJs, not only because we struggle to make that empathetic connection but because we can see through the empty empathy that empathy seekers get "tricked" by.

    I can feel really bad for someone, and follow it with one of two pathways: 1) pity/contempt or 2) sympathy. I only choose sympathy to appease my Fi, there really is no logic or intent behind it. Likewise, if I think the person acted really stupidly, it's like my Fi doesn't get a chance to activate since my Te overwhelms my brain. It is simply the "right" thing to do and I feel better for doing the right thing AND seeing the person become happy as a result of my actions.
    Yes, especially to the highlighted. On some level, I know and accept that many people like experiencing empathy from others (or even in themselves). On another level, though, I can't understand how this helps at all. I can understand someone just needing to vent -- a sounding board, or a shoulder to cry on. I am even willing to provide this, if I know it is wanted, but this is not empathy, since I still don't share/understand their feelings. Whether I help them often has less to do with how I feel and more with the nature of the difficulty and whether I am able to help.

    There is an interesting corollary that applies when I feel badly for someone in a bad situation, but know I cannot help. I stop expending emotional energy on it, because I know that won't help either, and it will just distract me from situations I can affect. All these charity campaigns showing hungry children, war refugees, or disaster victims ultimately leave me cold, not because I don't care, but because I focus my efforts on where I can do the most good.
    Hope is the denial of reality. It is the carrot dangled before the draft horse to keep him plodding along in a vain attempt to reach it. We should remove the carrot and walk forward with our eyes open. -- Raistlin Majere

  5. #15
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Array Mole's Avatar
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    Empathy, Torture and Social Work

    'Sympathy' and 'empathy' both come from the Ancient Greek. And sympathy means to feel the same as while empathy means to feel with, and in particular empathy means to know what someone is feeling without feeling it yourself.

    Also sympathy is natural but empathy must be learnt.

    So empathy is just as important to a social worker as it is to a torturer, for the torturer needs to know what their victim is feeling without feeling it themselves, just like a social worker.

  6. #16
    Senior Member Array InTheFlesh's Avatar
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    A lot of great posts in here, a lot of the details I would throw in have been covered by fecaleagle's articulate posts, so I'll just answer the question.

    1). There's comfort in numbers, people like knowing they're not alone in any given situation.

    2). A lot of the people just want to be heard out, not to just be spammed with possible solutions (which seems to be more difficult in my experience)

    3). The definitions are slightly skewed and can seem to blend together under the title of empathy.

  7. #17


    I think the biggest problem is people try to actually empathize when all they can truly do is sympathize. Or perhaps it's also the fact that those who actually can empathize do so, but the other doesn't believe they can truly relate.

  8. #18
    Senior Member Array Quiet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fecaleagle View Post
    I've always been confused by the concepts of sympathy and empathy. It seems like society highly praises empathy but doesn't care much for sympathy, which I think is opposite of what it should be. I see the word empathy being used everywhere and how it's so important for people to be empathetic (for instance, health care professionals). If you're not perceived as empathetic, you're shunned off as being "cold". But what about sympathy? I have a strong Fi and am very capable of feeling sympathy for others. I enjoy helping them out, even if I don't understand exactly why they are feeling vulnerable, sad, angry, etc. in a given situation. Of course sometimes I can't think of a way to help even if I want to, so I guess that comes off as cold? Then an empathetic person steps into the spotlight and can make the person feel better without even offering any help (other than understanding). For example, empathy seems to be a highly valued trait in physicians. I mean, sure, it would be nice for the doctor to be able to step in your shoes. But if it's empathy that everyone is after, the doctor doesn't necessarily have to feel an obligation to help you. They could take a "sucks for them" sort of attitude. Wouldn't sympathy be a better trait? Who cares if a doctor can RELATE to how you feel, as long as they feel sad for you and have an urge to help you even though they don't necessarily understand your situation.

    So I think sympathy should be more highly regarded since empathy doesn't even entail helping others but rather simply understanding where they are coming from. But I never hear people being praised for being sympathetic, or being told they should strive to become more sympathetic.

    I guess what I'm wondering is why it seems that society values empathy so much and sympathy just doesn't matter as much. Empathetic people are more likely to be very selfish, but sympathetic people are more inclined to being selfless, no?

    There is a difference.

    Sympathy is more like feeling sorry for someone. I don't feel sorry for people, because feeling sorry for them isn't going to do them any good, and it just isn't productive. I can sense if someone is feeling sympathetic towards me and I feel nothing but resentment about it, because despite how in pain I am, I NEVER feel sorry for myself as I am too proud.

    Empathy is more like feeling for someone. Really listening to what is said, what is not said and everything that one can see and otherwise sense. This is more productive, as the focus is more on what that person's need Really is- be it just being heard, needing suggestions or practical advice. Sympathizing with someone focuses more on feeling sorrow for them. To me, empathy is more of a hand up, than a hand out.
    "What's Taters, Precious?" --- Gollum.

    "Bring your pretty face, to my axe". --- Gimly.

  9. #19
    Senior Member Array You's Avatar
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    Sympathy is a just another word for pity. Empathy is understanding.
    Oh, its

  10. #20
    Senior Member Array INTP's Avatar
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    because empathy is active by nature(mirroring how other feels), while sympathy is passive by nature(seeing what other feels). with empathy, as the person feels what the other feels, he is more willing and able to help (in general as it doesent require similar past experiences).

    Quote Originally Posted by Nerd Girl View Post
    • Empathy when one has "been there" and sympathy when one hasn't.

    being empathetic doesent require you having felt before what the other person is feeling.
    here is the reason:
    "Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling."
    — C.G. Jung


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