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  1. #1
    Senior Member fecaleagle's Avatar
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    Default Sympathy vs Empathy. Why is empathy more highly regarded?

    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?
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  2. #2
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    I have noticed this as well. I won't attempt to define either sympathy or empathy, but I definitely relate to the idea of not needing to share someone's feelings to recognize that they could use help, and to help them. I help because I see a need, and think I can meet it. I used to wonder if that made my help somehow less valuable because there was not much feeling behind it, but I stopped letting it bother me, and just continue to help where I can.

    I will be interested to read the other responses.
    I've been called a criminal, a terrorist, and a threat to the known universe. But everything you were told is a lie. The truth is, they've taken our freedom, our home, and our future. The time has come for all humanity to take a stand...

  3. #3
    Freaking Ratchet Rail Tracer's Avatar
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    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.

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    Senior Member Jaguar's Avatar
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    Oh, God. Lol.

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    Senior Member Chiharu's Avatar
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    Um... okay. I think society values empathy more because they confuse sympathy with pity. Immature, misdirected, or destructive sympathy could more easily lead to a superiority complex or self-righteousness where empathy wouldn't.
    Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness." ― Kurt Vonnegut

    ENFP. 7w6 – 4w3 – 1w9 sx/so. Aries. Dilettante. Overly anxious optimist.

  6. #6
    Senior Member fecaleagle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chiharu View Post
    Um... okay. I think society values empathy more because they confuse sympathy with pity. Immature, misdirected, or destructive sympathy could more easily lead to a superiority complex or self-righteousness where empathy wouldn't.
    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
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Chiharu's Avatar
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    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"? Or am I missing something
    Hmm... I always saw the evil in pure sympathy as "I feel bad for them, but really it was their own fault and I would never do something so stupid..." yet I can see your point about pure empathy... Maybe empathy is more likely to be followed by sympathy than sympathy is by empathy?
    Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness." ― Kurt Vonnegut

    ENFP. 7w6 – 4w3 – 1w9 sx/so. Aries. Dilettante. Overly anxious optimist.

  8. #8
    Senior Member fecaleagle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chiharu View Post
    Hmm... I always saw the evil in pure sympathy as "I feel bad for them, but really it was their own fault and I would never do something so stupid..." yet I can see your point about pure empathy... Maybe empathy is more likely to be followed by sympathy than sympathy is by empathy?
    Hmm that's interesting about your view of sympathy. Personally, if I were to have that exact monologue in my head, I wouldn't even begin to compare it with the sympathy that I experience. Whether I not I decide to help them, I would consider it assistance or lack of assistance without an emotional component.

    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. Maybe people tend to scrutinize sympathy (but not empathy), and group these two pathways into 1 concept of "sympathy". Maybe it comes down to activation of mirror neurons by empathy, whereas sympathy does not activate these mirror neurons, and the brain is skeptical since this emotional connection isn't made and causes the person to be critical/paranoid?
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  9. #9
    morose bourgeoisie
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    Sympathy: I see you're in pain, and I know what pain feels like. (general)

    Empathy: I see you're in pain and I know what the specific pain feels like. (specific)

  10. #10
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    They differ in emotional meaning:

    • Empathy is actually sharing another's suffering, while sympathy is a feeling of recognition of another's suffering.
    • Empathy when one has "been there" and sympathy when one hasn't.
    • Empathy is putting yourself in someone else's shoes to feel what they're feeling and sympathy is the ability to support the emotions of another person with compassion.


    One can empathize, but not sympathize:
    One might empathize with someone that hates their job, but not be sympathetic towards that person because they logically conclude that person has the power to change their situation.

    One can empathize and sympathize:
    One feels sympathy towards someone that loses a loved one and also feel empathy, if they too have lost a loved one.

    To answer your question, I think empathy is more highly regarded because it's more personal. It's truly connecting with someone and gaining an unspoken understanding. Then and only then can you really inspire or appropriately help someone. And yes, even sympathize. In my opinion.
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