Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion) (montecristo) wrote,
Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion)

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Why Empathy vs Sympathy?

In Brené Brown's video, she discusses the difference between sympathy and empathy. She breaks empathy down into four components, as I have documented in another entry. Brown distinguishes sympathy from empathy. She does this according to characteristic behaviors and effects associated with sympathy vs. empathy, but Brown does not identify the fundamental characteristics of sympathy to distinguish it from empathy, whose fundamental characteristics she does identify. I think the distinction lies in the last two characteristics she identified with empathy: the ability to connect with feelings in oneself which are the same as that experienced by the person with whom we are empathizing, and the ability to communicate those feelings to the other person. I think sympathy shares the first two: perspective taking, and ability to stay out of judgment, with empathy, but unlike empathy, sympathy lacks the latter two.

Empathy fuels connection but sympathy drives disconnection precisely because the latter is lacking the components of self-empathy and communication. In fact, I believe that people act from sympathy rather than empathy because they fear identifying a feeling in themselves similar to what the other person is feeling. They want to evade these feelings, or more importantly, some knowledge associated with these feelings. Sympathy is the desire to get the object of our sympathy to disown and dissociate themselves from the feelings they are feeling because those feelings threaten us with the realization that we have felt the same way and we are trying to avoid feeling those feelings in ourselves.

In the video, what is the deer character trying to accomplish in communicating with the fox character? She is trying to get the fox to change her perspective and stop feeling what she is feeling. Why? Is it just because the deer doesn't want the fox to suffer from a negative emotional state? No. The deer is avoiding (evading) her own feelings. She wants the fox to stop feeling what she is feeling because fox's feelings threaten to cause deer to experience those feelings as well. Deer's inner guardians are trying to protect deer from experiencing those feelings again, so they try to control or otherwise influence fox to drop her feelings and adopt new ones that do not threaten deer. Deer does not want to identify with those feelings in herself.

I spoke to Shannon this afternoon. She's talking with some sort of therapist. She said that he is providing her with some "coping tools." She told me that she told him that she was keeping herself occupied with all sorts of things that make her busy, like her knitting, her job, the search for a second job, learning Japanese, and baking. He approved. She said that a lot of people wouldn't hit on that coping strategy, and that it is a good one. I'm not sure what to make of that. It would seem that making a lot of busy work for yourself would not be conducive to learning anything about what is going on inside yourself. I didn't argue with her. I told her that it was good that she had decided to talk to someone. I tried to explain to her some of the stuff in the paragraphs above, but there was just too many things happening on her end of the conversation. Apparently, she was "supervising" her friend and housemate, Trevor, while he worked under the car. I did manage to tell her that I had been "cut off" from some of my inner people and feelings by things with which I had to deal as a child and that this sometimes impacted my ability to feel empathy and connect with she and her sister when they were growing up. I apologized for this. She sounded like she had received new information, so I hope that she considers this.
Tags: human nature, internal family system, philosophy, ponderings and curiosity

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