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"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." 
                                 -- Leo F. Buscaglia

What Is Empathy?

An empathic way of being with another person has several facets.  It means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it.  It involves being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person, to the fear or rage or tenderness or confusion or whatever he or she is experiencing.

It means temporarily living in the other's life, moving about in it delicately without making judgments; it means sensing meanings of which he or she is scarcely aware, but not trying to uncover totally unconscious feelings, since this would be too threatening.  It includes communicating your sensings of the person's world as you look with fresh and unfrightened eyes at elements of which he or she is fearful.  It means frequently checking with the person as to the accuracy of your sensings, and being guided by the responses you receive.

You are a confident companion to the person in his or her inner world.  By pointing to the possible meanings in the flow of another person's experiencing, you help the other to focus on this useful type of referent, to experience the meanings more fully, and to move forward in the experiencing.

To be with another in this way means that for the time being, you lay aside your own views and values in order to enter another's world without prejudice.  In some sense, it means that you lay aside yourself; this can only be done by persons who are secure enough in themselves that they know they will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and that they can comfortably return to their own world when they wish.

Carl Rogers (1902-1987). Excerpt from "A Way of Being"

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Empathy is the opposite of projection.  In empathy we respect the core of the other; in projection we invade and displace it with our own.  In empathic resonance to the core of others, we make fewer inferences, judgments, and interpretations.  In other words, we bring more mindfulness into our relationships.  
                                                                 -D. Richo

I have met people who label themselves "empaths," but it seems to be a thinly disguised excuse for them to project and air their own baggage.  This gets in the way of genuine relating, and it feels violative to be on the receiving end of it.  There's nothing worse than someone telling you they "know how you feel" when you know with every molecule of your body that they don't.  Such experiences rob one of their soul.

Here are some examples from someone who is always telling others she "knows how they feel."

"I know your pain, Rosanne, and I wish you didn't have to go through this kind of thing. I can relate to keeping to yourself, sometimes it feels safer that way. Don't give up though!  We all still think you're cool and have impeccable qualifications to be here!"

Unfortunately this author never seems to relate to others, but only to her OWN experience.  It's very discounting 

For instance,

"I share your pain, Sharon."


"I fought this same battle myself, and it was really, really hard.  I know it's not easy, oh how I know.  I'm praying for you, Marsha, I know so well what this all feels like. Yes, it is a very visceral, painful experience."

Notice how it subtly stops being about the other person, and becomes about the author instead.  This shows how empathy is not really occurring, but has instead become an opportunity for projection.  This is a danger with extraverted Feeling.

In his latest book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, the prolific social scientist Daniel Goleman talks in some depth about the latest findings on empathy. Specifically, Goleman speaks about three levels of empathy:

  • The basic level of empathy is achieved when one becomes aware of what another person is feeling. If you cannot discern the nuances of another's emotions and moods, it is very hard to connect constructively.

  • The next level of empathy allows you to connect by "feeling into" what another person feels. When we allow ourselves to slow down, pay attention and truly share someone else's emotional experience, we can begin to understand their perspective much clearer.

  • The final level of empathy is being able to respond compassionately to what another feels. Beyond our natural human tendencies (to agree/disagree/judge/"fix"/influence), responding to someone else's emotional truth with patience and compassion creates a connection from which powerful change can occur. 

If you want to be a better Catalyst, I encourage you to practice deepening your empathy. What can you do today to slow down and really connect with someone special in your life?

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To be able to listen -- really, wholly, passively, self-effacingly listen -- without presupposing, classifying, improving, controverting, evaluating, approving or disapproving, without dueling with what is being said, without rehearsing the rebuttal in advance, without free-associating to portions of what is being said so that succeeding portions are not heard at all -- such listening is rare.
                                               -Abraham Maslow

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Empathy is a quality many of us believe we have.  After all, we are not a society of insensitive robots!

But then, ironically, many INFJs get tagged with the label of "codependent" for experiencing the degree of empathy they do.  If you click on the following link, it will take you to a codependency "evaluation."  I put gray borders on the items I feel reflect the behaviors of one who actually has preferences for Fe.  See how well you score.  The link is here.

Extraverted Feeling is "building trust through giving relationships."  It's a way to give and receive in order to grow closer.   It's acting on the empathy we feel, and doing something with it.

Engaging the process of extraverted Feeling starts with entering an empathic mode in order to read others' needs and take on their needs and values as our own.  We can refer to, align, refine, and apply a relationship. Applying often means giving and receiving support to grow closer. 

We evaluate our giving relationship by asking, "do we both love, trust, and respect each other?"  It emphasizes "giving" for its own sake.  

Extraverted Feeling draws out other people's beliefs, emotions, or ideas, and tends to focus on what is shared.  Often, extraverted Feeling will share personal information in an attempt to bond with other people.  After identifying other people's needs, extraverted Feeling will try, when possible, to meet those needs -- frequently at the expense of meeting its own needs.  

People with well-developed extraverted Feeling actively find out what each significant person in their lives wants and tries to fulfill that need, even at great cost to their own needs and/or psychic harmony.  At the extreme, extraverted Feeling completely surrenders its own needs in order to meet another person's needs, even sacrificing its own needs to achieve this overriding focus!

Sometimes I think this is a marvelous intelligence that came with a curse attached to it.  Fe becomes a problem when we keep giving at the expense of our own needs getting met.  (Here's another assessment to evaluate whether we have slipped into martyrdom.)

Using extraverted feeling asks us to be personal, compassionate, and lacking hard boundaries, which may cause us to lose ourselves in others' needs and values.  (Dario warns that people who favor Fe may be viewed as "chumps" by unscrupulous people.)

I remember an INFP friend remarking that he would gladly throw a rope down in a hole to help somebody out, but he wouldn't get down in the hole with them.  My track record says I'll get down in the hole with them, bring candy and a CD player, and have them take a break while I take over shoveling them out. 

Back in college my freshman year I started feeling an anxiety that wouldn't go away.  It was so severe that I went to a school counselor about it.  I told her I kept worrying about my family -- whether or not they were okay.  She told me I should just forget about my family and concentrate on my studies.  

That's how people often react to expressions of extraverted Feeling, by telling us to improve our use of introverted Feeling -- to be SELF-centered rather than other-centered.

I've been taken advantage of so many times I must have a tattoo on me somewhere begging for it.  And I'm not talking about minor things -- I'm talking about lots of money and effort.  I've nothing to show for plenty of blood, sweat, and tears -- even I feel shock over just how much I've been taken for.

A friend of mine trying to decide whether his preferences were for INFJ or INFP told me he had a roommate one time that he had a crush on.  And he ended up covering her rent and her bills when she went through some hard times.  He did it because he was interested in her romantically, and was hoping his generosity would pay off.  It didn't, and she had it out with him and moved out.  She also paid him back -- every dime she owed him.  And I remember thinking, "You must not be INFJ, because you wouldn't have gotten paid back if you were."  Isn't that funny.....?  (And yes, he later decided his preferences were for INFP.)

If it helps you to read these horror stories, let me know on my feedback form and I'll post more of them.  Believe me, I could write a whole book of sad tales like these alone.  Isn't it funny how helping others leaves us feeling bad?  Like we did something shameful?  What is that about?  Shouldn't they be the ones to feel shame, for taking advantage and not appreciating and honoring those who did helped them?

Self-esteem diminishes when I am betrayed by friends I have helped and trusted.

Portraits of Self-Esteem, Bonnie J. Golden

In its advanced use, Dario says that Fe connects and interacts with whole groups as if they are one unit, reading people's feelings, values, and interests as a single entity and translating them into cultural norms.  I'll say more about that down the road.

In order to smoothly relate to other people, extraverted Feeling internalizes cultural values, treats them as if they are personal values, and uses them to drive decisions.  When functioning in a group or on a team, extraverted Feeling seeks to maintain group harmony and makes sure each person is recognized and taken care of.

Often, extraverted Feeling attempts to educate other people as to appropriate behaviors in given situations.

INFJs use Fe in the outer world, and it manifests through their auxiliary process.  They use it as a "good parent" would -- helping others, possibly coaching people about how to behave in sticky situations or how to best treat others. They often feel a sense of "oneness with others," and find it easy to give -- or withhold -- praise, warmth, and respect to people's feelings and opinions.

Sometimes I think INFJs got a "double dose" of the Good Parent archetype.  Here's why:  Fe seems the very embodiment of the empathic "good parent," and it coincidentally resides in the auxiliary position for INFJs -- the Good Parent archetype according to Beebe's model.  So it's a Good Parent process in a Good Parent position, so we must be double dosed with this archetype.

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Suffering and joy teach us, if we allow them, how to make the leap of empathy, which transports us into the soul and heart of another person. In those transparent moments we know other people's joys and sorrows, and we care about their concerns as if they were our own.
                                               - Fritz Williams

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Sympathizers are spectators; empathizers wear game shoes.
                                                                      -John Eyberg

"Be sensitive to the plight of others. You have to know about the tragedies as well as the triumphs, the failures as well as the success."
                                        -- Jim Rohn

"How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these."
                      -- George Washington Carver

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