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mikkyh
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24 Jan 2010, 11:50 am

Aren't we people with Asperger Syndrome usually capable of feeling sympathy but struggle more with empathy ? I really can feel sympathy it's more empathy that I struggle with.

I'm going to use some quotes:

"Sympathy and empathy are separate terms with some very important distinctions. Sympathy and empathy are both acts of feeling, but with sympathy you feel for the person; you’re sorry for them or pity them, but you don’t specifically understand what they’re feeling. Sometimes 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 imagination, work, or possibly a similar experience to get to empathy"

We all now that people with AS can suffer with imagination and it's empathy that requires imagination: not sympathy. So we should be able to sympathize but not empathize - that's logical anyway.


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j0sh
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24 Jan 2010, 12:18 pm

I agree.

Two situations that helped illustrate this too me happened with a coworker. The office cheerleader type that's always planning holiday events came walking up to me and I misread her. I knew her pretty well because the condo I bought ended up being about 50 yards form her house. She gave me a bunch of stuff for my place when I moved in too. One night she came over to pickup her stuff that I got from work for her. Her husband had an accident when they were bicycling and was in the hospital. She looked upset and asked for a hug during that encounter.

Several months later, when she came to my desk, her face looked like it did the night she came to my place. I thought something must be wrong and was immediately concerned. It turned out that she was coming to show me pictures of her nephew winning some award. I didn't have the empathy to feel what she was feeling, but given what I knew, I was sympathetic to her in both situations based on information.



Callista
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24 Jan 2010, 12:30 pm

Yup, you've exactly described my situation. I care a lot about people, but I don't automatically empathize. I have what I guess is probably logic-oriented compassion.


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Avengilante
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24 Jan 2010, 1:54 pm

mikkyh wrote:
It takes imagination, work, or possibly a similar experience to get to empathy"



Similar experiences definitely help. But some DSM criteria created to diagnose AS in children may apply less and less as one gains experience and maturity. Don't take that lack of empathy stuff as some unchangeable sentence imposed on us forever. Some degree of empathy can be developed over the course of a lifetime. You probably have more than you realize.

And the so called NT ability to empathize is not a magic power. I don't think they generally read each other all that much better than we do.


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Jingo8
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24 Jan 2010, 4:36 pm

I agree also, i tend to have 3 reactions -

1 - I know i'm suposed to support this person, my experiences tell me they are likely to be upset or down in the current situation, thus i have learnt the right thing to do is to support them by offering sympathy (i'm not actually feeling sympathetic, just carrying out the actions of being sympathetic)

2 - I understand that the thing the person is going through at some level or other is a bit crappy. I don't really feel huge emotion and i can't really understand how it feels, but i genuinely feel sorry for them and offer them my sympathy.

3 - I understand fully how someone feels, i would hate to be in the same situation as them and can make my own decisions about exactly how bad this thing is and how bad they must be feeling. I am empathising and sympathising.

I probably do 1 and 2 the most and occassionally do 3 but usually only when it's something that's previously effected me also.


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Oculus
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25 Jan 2010, 2:54 am

I think this topic's original post is spot-on correct on all its points.

One of the things that brought me to join this forum in the first place was my search for advice on improving my empathy. I've been working on it, and it seems like it's getting better as I age (or perhaps as I experience more things which others experience? either way, an increase with time), but it's still a problem.

Talking with co-workers about technical issues is pretty easy, but when the conversation turns to personal issues, or events with large personal/emotional impact, I might not figure out what was going on in someone's head until days later, if ever. Just before starting the search which led me here, a co-worker with whom I'd worked closely and enjoyably came to my desk to talk about various things, particularly that the project we had been working on together for a year was wrapping up and he'd be starting on a new one soon. (He's a project manager, and as an engineer I provide him with technical assistance as needed.) I could tell something was bothering him, but couldn't figure out what. The next day I realized he was probably sad because we wouldn't be working together on the new project. I felt like an ass for not figuring it out while he was there in front of me. He was probably looking for social responses which I didn't know to give him.

I got a second chance later in the week when he IM'd me: "this is a drag -- I miss our [other project]", and I told him I'd miss working with him on that project, which seemed to go over well.

People are important. Even the most technical issues have human roots. The significance of any problem is derived from people caring about its consequences. It doesn't matter how sophisticated my technology may be, or how smart I am, or how motivated, if I can't work with and understand people. That lack of understanding will be the limiting factor in my competence as an engineer. So, I should endeavor to improve upon it.

Reading the "How did you distinguish between playful teasing and bullying" thread was a bit discouraging because many people seemed to be saying "aspies can't improve that skill -- give up trying". But that isn't the only thread in this vast forum (and I haven't finished reading them all, either), and I've read some very thought-provoking and potentially useful posts already. Not trying is (imo) a suboptimal choice, so it should not be considered. Giving up hope is not as useful as continuing to hope, so I will continue reading and hoping for something I can use to improve my practical empathy. Just figuring out things a little faster would often help, and that doesn't seem like an unreasonable goal.



ToughDiamond
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25 Jan 2010, 7:30 am

The definitions I like are:

Sympathy - the ability to feel the emotions of another when you yourself have experienced what they are going through.

Empathy - the ability to feel the emotions of another when you yourself have not experienced what they are going through. This requires "social imagination," which is a thing that Aspies usually have marked difficulty with.

Im my own case, I have little trouble with sympathy by the above definition, but empathy can be a lot harder. The more I learn about human experiences and the emotional reactions to them, the better my "empathy" becomes.

I'd be interested to know of real examples of neurotypicals being better able to second-guess the emotions of others who experience what they themselves haven't - I suppose they have better maps of human experience than I do.



Jingo8
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25 Jan 2010, 8:19 am

Oculus, don't get discouraged :)

Use our aspie specificness, i agree I (won't speak for others) probably will never improve my geniune empathy. However i am an absolute master at taking information, analysing it and using it. So while my processor will never be able to calculate the answer to the "empathy calculation", it is able to refer to my hard drive. That hard drive is full of extremely well indexed information just waiting to be applied.

Just as you likely use previous bits of work or other people's work in your engineering projects, putting them to use just adjusting it to be relevent to the current project, the same can be done for empathy based on having experienced a situation and learnt from it how you were suposed to act.

Next time a project finishes, you just might remember the people who worked with you a lot may feel sad they won't get to work with you any more. You might even be the one telling them you're sad you won't get to work with them any more (even if you don't mean it), leaving them thinking "wow he's a really empathetic guy!" (ok unlikely...).

I'm sure it doesn't feel as good as the real thing, but mimicing really works wonders. Don't be discouraged when you hit a block (can't learn), just systematically work around it (copy previous experience).


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