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Empathy is often described as putting yourself in the other person's shoes, but I've been wondering how accurate this actually is. The goal of empathy is to understand what the other person is feeling, and it doesn't seem like guessing what your reaction would be if put in their position is always the best way of figuring this out.

One example I can think of in my own life is my extreme sensitivity to confrontation. What I perceive as confrontation can often go completely unnoticed by the other individual. I put myself in their position, and assume that because I feel tension then they must too(projection?). I feel I'm being too harsh when communicating with them and try to soften the blow when in actuality there is often no blow to be softened. The fact I even did this without checking with the other person usually causes so much more problems than if I actually addressed how I felt and how they did too.

I guess I made this thread to get other INFJs opinion on this, and I hope what I said make sense. How do you guys define empathy? Do you find yourself prone to these mistakes too? It seems like communication is the best and only true way to understand how the other person is feeling.
 

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Well, because empathy or 'putting yourself in anothers shoes' involves seeing things from their perspective and not merely from your own perspective projected into them. It requires information about the other person. If you don't have the appropriate information about another person it can sometimes be hard to actually see something from their perspective. So for instance, if you know someone else's personality type, say they are an ENFP or something, don't look at their position from the perspective of yourself as an INFJ but try to look at it from the perspective of an ENFP. So ENFP's tend to be people pleasers and hate confrontation. What would someone who doesn't want to offend others do in situation x y and z? Maybe, INFJ's are similar to ENFP's in respect to avoiding confrontation. Take an INTJ then, it is very hard to offend us and we admire independence in others and respect differing opinions. So something that an INFJ might see as a confrontation we might perceive merely as a differing of opinion, which doesn't necessarily equate to a confrontation to us. So we might have a higher requirement for what we believe constitutes a confrontation. Also we don't fear confrontation the way some other types do but generally don't seek to start a confrontation unless it is likely to achieve some positive result. We're all about efficiency. You have to take such information into account and try to apply it to yourself, even if you do not generally think that way, and ask 'how would I react in this situation given that I thought about things according to these variables'. That's what empathy is, it is understanding anothers position. Otherwise, you merely have sympathy, which is feeling bad for someone but being unable to understand what they're going through.
 

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Well, because empathy or 'putting yourself in anothers shoes' involves seeing things from their perspective and not merely from your own perspective projected into them. It requires information about the other person. If you don't have the appropriate information about another person it can sometimes be hard to actually see something from their perspective. So for instance, if you know someone else's personality type, say they are an ENFP or something, don't look at their position from the perspective of yourself as an INFJ but try to look at it from the perspective of an ENFP. So ENFP's tend to be people pleasers and hate confrontation. What would someone who doesn't want to offend others do in situation x y and z? Maybe, INFJ's are similar to ENFP's in respect to avoiding confrontation. Take an INTJ then, it is very hard to offend us and we admire independence in others and respect differing opinions. So something that an INFJ might see as a confrontation we might perceive merely as a differing of opinion, which doesn't necessarily equate to a confrontation to us. So we might have a higher requirement for what we believe constitutes a confrontation. Also we don't fear confrontation the way some other types do but generally don't seek to start a confrontation unless it is likely to achieve some positive result. We're all about efficiency. You have to take such information into account and try to apply it to yourself, even if you do not generally think that way, and ask 'how would I react in this situation given that I thought about things according to these variables'. That's what empathy is, it is understanding anothers position. Otherwise, you merely have sympathy, which is feeling bad for someone but being unable to understand what they're going through.
It's pretty brilliant that you summed this up as quickly as you did. I think your definition is spot on, thank you.
 

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Empathy is often described as putting yourself in the other person's shoes, but I've been wondering how accurate this actually is. The goal of empathy is to understand what the other person is feeling, and it doesn't seem like guessing what your reaction would be if put in their position is always the best way of figuring this out.
Interesting question.

I believe many people are still confused about the distinction of sympathy and empathy. It can be particularly tricky for INFJ because we often think about other more than ourselves. And if you're guessing your own reaction by putting in their position, that's the sign where you apply sympathy.

Here's how I define empathy: True empaths don't need to second-guess themselves as they know immediately what's the emotional state of others because of the following three factors:

1. You have gone through a similar experience of someone else's difficulties or trauma.
2. You have known or shared a decent life history with the sufferer.
3. You don't have the urge to express of your concern (aka sympathy) to the sufferer.

Without sharing a common ground of experience, you will never understand what they are feeling (Point 1) but instead, you'll be preoccupied with applying projection and injecting your own thoughts into understanding the psychological state of the sufferer through Ni-Fe. This is also the stage you have an urge to express your thoughts and concerns on them (Fe) rather than offering the sufferer to heal on their own pace, which is common for most Fi-users to understand the necessity of giving private space for sufferers.

The tricky part comes if an INFJ has shared a long history with the sufferer. They often automatically assume they know the sufferer inside out even if they did not share the similar experience. Sometimes, INFJ needs to realize that we're left with little choice but to feel sympathetic because we really can't understand the plight or predicament of someone else. It takes more than imagination to work and without possibly similar experience, it's nearly impossible to get to empathy.

There are numerous "therapy" groups for battered women, rape victims, parents who have lost children, people undergoing divorce, children with significant illnesses. In such groups, people often have the opportunity to talk to others experiencing things in a very direct way. In these settings, many people believe that those suffering don't get the sympathy of others, but empathy of others. I thought it should be the opposite.

Even if they had similar experiences, but without mutual understanding of each other's background and character, it may be impossible to be fully empathetic because each individual's reactions, thoughts and feelings to tragedy are going to be unique. Yet the idea of empathy implies a much more active process. Instead of feeling sorry for, you’re sorry with and have clothed yourself in the mantle of someone else’s emotional reactions.

Fi-users are naturally good and better at channeling their empathy on others as compare to INFJs because there is much less urge and needs to express their inner-emotions and consideration outwardly. This is perhaps the best example of how empathy differs from sympathy. Sympathy expressed to a person in grief suggests that person is alone in their grief. Empathy suggests you’re in it with them, you can imagine what it is to be in their shoes, and you are together with them in emotional turmoil and loss.
 

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I can only be empathetic in situations other people are in where I know there's a chance I could be in that position or if I have experienced their plight myself already i.e. I am a mother and therefore I feel empathetic when I see parents and/or children suffering through illness or whatever. Another example is someone experiencing the loss of a loved one - I've experienced this and therefore I know how they're feeling and can empathise.

Anything else is just sympathy. You can't just guess at how someone is feeling if you've never experienced what they're going through or are never likely to/there isn't the possibility that you might.
 

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For me empathy means treating others like I would like to be treated. May not always work but I learned that those not understanding my actions often do not want to be a part of my life.
 
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