Hi NF's, I decided to post this in the NF forum because I figured you would have the best models around this stuff. :-) I have been thinking a lot about the Fe and Fi functions and how they translate into sympathy or empathy.
From my understanding sympathy is an understanding of another's feelings while empathy is actually feeling another's feelings. "You must be in pain" vs. "I feel your pain". And yes, I realize that from an NF's point of view it is far more nuanced than that, but this is really not the point of this post so please give this poor NT a break. ;-)
Through some observation it occurred to me that the Fe function correlates more with sympathy while the Fi function correlates more with empathy.
I arrived at this by noticing that my INFJ and ENFJ friends (Fe types), who were usually very warm and considerate of others, would be very cold and calculating in some situations, while my ENFP and INFP friends (Fi types) who are usually quite self centered would occasionally be overly considerate of another's feelings.
Somehow the Fe types (INFJ, ENFJ) could distance themselves a bit more from the "other" than the Fi types (ENFP, INFP) and I found this to be the exact opposite of what I would of expected.
This lead me to the notion that perhaps the Fe allows for sympathy, as the Fe type is not actually "feeling" the feelings of the other, while the Fi allows for empathy, as the Fi type is actually "feeling" the feelings of the other.
I have also noticed this in myself (ENTP type with Fe) and my INTJ/ENTJ friends (Fi types). Of course we are all cold and robotic by the NF standards ;-), but I find that my Fi NT friends who are usually quite cold are actually more empathetic (when they are inclined to feel), and my Fe NT friends who are normally much nicer, can be more distanced from another's emotions.
If this is all treading on well-trod ground, my apologies. But if not, I would appreciate some thoughts on the issue.