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  1. #1
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    Default Empathy vs. Sympathy

    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.

    Thanks, Kevin

  2. #2
    Senior Member Vamp's Avatar
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    I tend to view empathy as understanding were someone is coming from and sympathy as feeling their feelings.

    I've got some relatively weak Fe; I can understand why things are a certain way but that won't stop me from doing what I have to do. But that doesn't mean I don't have sympathy. Eh, idunno. I feel I've learned to suppress a lot of my Fe because it's too hard to get through life with it constantly causing flickers of a "conscience".
    George Bernard Shaw in cartoon form.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Rebe's Avatar
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    I think Fe is more about acknowledging that the other person is in pain and then, feeling a need to do something to help that person whether by physical or emotional support. I agree that they do not necessarily have to feel the others' pain to want to do something about it.

    I am not sure about the definitions of empathy and sympathy. They are often used interchangeably.

    And Fi is more about feeling that pain, putting self in that situation and thinking, if I was that person or animal, I would want someone to stand up for me / help me.

    So if my Fe friend and I come across a bleeding dog on the road - I'd internally feel that pain and thinking to myself, what if I was that animal, what if I was bleeding after being run over by a car, that poor animal was just walking along and this huge truck comes and...

    It's not that it matters only because I can see a different scenario, I also know that the animal is a separate being and just by existing as a living thing deserves a better outcome than lying on some road in brutal pain- part of that (what I will now call 'heavy thinking' stems from Fi as in I have these values and expectations so I get philosophical and deep about a singular insignificant incident and ponder about life...not always but sometimes, Fe don't do that)

    For Fe, for sympathy, I think it is more 1) This animal is hurt. 2) What can we do? There's no need to feel their pain or have an existential crisis.

    Because of this, Fi has subjective empathy as in if I do not feel that the other person/animal is deserving of my compassion, then you get nothing, no sympathy, no empathy, you deserve whatever horrible thing happened to you. And I may even smile despite that it is truly horrible because well, you are a horrible human being.

    This is a loose generalization. I think both types are capable of sympathy and empathy depending on different situations and the people involved. Fi might be more likely to be empathic than sympathetic naturally as it is about taking an internal value from something and bringing that value into our own internal realm, but what I described above is in no way accurate for every XNFP. Just some thoughts on this. I find this interesting.

    I was in hysterics one time during a documentary about health care and what really killed me was when this woman said she lost her soul mate to lung cancer that could have (completely) been prevented. (Not that I use the term soul mate' and I have gotten more cynical today.) But on that day, I was completely out of control and sobbing like a lunatic and my Fe friend didn't even blink. She was like, if I knew you were going to be this upset, I wouldn't have bought you to see it.

    It's difficult to explain. But I see that for Fi, it is very much an internal process and kind of murky and for Fe, it is straightforward and external.

  4. #4
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    yeah, i agree a lot Rebe. the dog example you gave is totally me, too

    Quote Originally Posted by kevdod
    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.
    this is my understanding too.

    that empathy is more Fi-related, and involves really being able to feel the same thing the other person feels inside of yourself - since Fi is introverted, after all - and then being able to use that genuine feeling in you to relate to the other person.... which doesn't always lend the same social fluidity as Fe, because it's so individually-based. and i think that generally coldness/reserve on Fi's part is the fact that it is introverted, that we really need to internalize it ourselves first before we can relate, and that we don't always see the bigger external picture...

    and then, as i understand it (correct me if i'm wrong for sure), Fe is more about understanding external emotional dynamics, about how you come off and how you can meet others where they are - which is more sympathy, i thought - understanding how they feel but not necessarily being there yourself so much - being able to mirror other's emotions but not necessarily take them on as your own, and understanding social protocol and what behavior is expected. Fe is much better with social fluidity and also the ability to precisely convey coldness if you want - a more calculated and fine-tuned message of removal.

    but of course we all use both.

    there's a discussion of Fi vs Fe over here that i thought was really interesting i liked this post --

    Fi is not about caring about oneself. Fe is not about caring about others. Rather, Fi is where your own feelings occupy your thoughts. Fe is where others' feelings occupy your thoughts.

    It is possible for both to be selfish: Fi becomes completely self absorbed, while Fe is ready to evaluate everyone else's values only in relation to one's own values.

    It is possible for both to be unselfish: Fi can be a personal feeling of putting oneself in another shoes, while Fe can be employed to not only empathize with others, but to help others feel better and understand their own feelings.

    ** :idea: -- i wonder if Fi has a lot to do with ENFPs being more introverted extraverts?

  5. #5
    Lungs & Lips Locked Unkindloving's Avatar
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    I view sympathy as having direct experience with a situation, thus being able to feel for it. Empathy is more of the ability to feel for a situation, without having direct experience with it.

    I don't think it pertains to Fi or Fe exactly. Both myself and my xNFP friends can empathize, while our IxTJ friends tend to sympathize more. I would say Fe vs Fi tends to affect how one empathizes or sympathizes, but not which does/doesn't.
    I think that is where the cold/distant thing comes into play. NFJs can be far more calculated, especially when dealing with emotion. We try to assess things effectively and keep our emotions in check. I've found that i'm more likely to be collected around a person, but then discuss their situation with full concern/emotion to others.

    I honestly couldn't expect many of my NT/ST friends to empathize (by my definition) with many people. They've only ever sympathized with each other or sympathized with me until the point where we didn't have any more shared experience in a situation. It's seriously appeared like an on/off switch that they are unaware of themselves.
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  6. #6
    Senior Member Jaguar's Avatar
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    empathy - Understanding and entering into another's feelings.

    sympathy - Kindness of feeling toward one who suffers; pity; commiseration; compassion.

  7. #7
    Senior Member HotpinkHeatwave's Avatar
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    I'm VERY empathetic.. But not sympathetic.

    I am extremely sensitive to the emotions around me, constantly picking them up, and in some cases, feeling them myself.

    However, it is almost rare to have my sympathy.

    Basically, I will 'feel for you', but I will not 'feel bad for you'.

    Sympathy:

    Person 1: "My dad died."

    Person 2: "I am very sorry to hear that."


    Empathy:

    Person 1: "My dad died."

    Person 2: *Feels hurt, sad, possibly painful*

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jaguar View Post
    empathy - Understanding and entering into another's feelings.

    sympathy - Kindness of feeling toward one who suffers; pity; commiseration; compassion.
    This. and generally sympathy is easier given and easier lost than empathy, because it doesent require as much work to sympathize. i bet thats why Fe is usually spread to larger groups at same time than Fi
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  9. #9
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    Yeah empathy feels the pain of others, or at least identifies with their situation. I think empathy is also more directly affected by the emotions of people around them, therefore causing the empathetic person to be more easily upset by those around them. Like people have already said, an empathetic person can suffer along with someone with intensity, to the point of literally "feeling them" or feel absolutely nothing (or possibly even sadistic glee) if they cannont empathize and think they deserve what they had coming.

    Sympathy generally can remain more personally detached and still feel strongly that they must help and do the "right" thing, and while that sounds more cold and rational, it gives them the ability to be able to stop and see things from all sides, and/or to enter into the viewpoints of people they don't necessarily agree with and still be able to treat them with kindness.

    It's funny to say that sympathizing doesn't require as much work, like INTP said, because I don't think that's true. I think people who are truly sympathetic must put a lot of effort into attempting to understand people they can't relate to or don't agree with. I tend to think of it as mature Fe use, and it is a gift.

    Of course people with Fi can have sympathy, and Fe can experience empathy in some cases...some people more than others, depending on the individual.

    I think both empathy and sympathy are good and useful for different reasons, and both can have their drawbacks.

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    Senior Member INTP's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marmalade.sunrise View Post
    It's funny to say that sympathizing doesn't require as much work, like INTP said, because I don't think that's true. I think people who are truly sympathetic must put a lot of effort into attempting to understand people they can't relate to or don't agree with.
    But the deal is that when you sympathize, you dont need to understand why the person is feeling the way he is its enough that you understand what the person feels, unlike when empathizing when you need to understand why the person feels that way, if you cant understand why someone feels certain way you wont be able to truly empathize. This is why i think sympathizing doesent require as much work as empathizing. When you empathize and understand the reason, you apply the same reasons that make the other person sad or happy(or what ever the person is feeling) to yourself and look how you would feel in the same situation. But in order to apply sympathy to someone you dont need to understand the reasons, because you wont be applying the reasons for yourself.
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