The word empathy and the nature of language

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Ganondox
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17 Feb 2012, 2:26 pm

So I was in drama class, and we were discussing sympathy, empathy, and catharsis and what it means to actor. So my drama teacher defined empathy as knowing and understanding what someone else is feeling, while I argued that the most basic definition of the word just meant feeling what someone else is feeling. I partly based this on the entonymology of the word, but I didn't mention that. So we look up the definition, and what we find is essentially two entries for the word in one dictionary, the second of which was irrelevant and weird, while the first of which was essentially " [definition of cognitive empathy] or [definition of affective]. Now, we decided that for the sake of the context of the word in theater we should include both parts as understanding helps you act it, but this has got me thinking about the word and the nature of meaning itself. Now, cognitive empathy and affective empathy are two different things, but since the two definitions were put together most people must essentially think they are the same thing, just empathy, and more of think of them as alternate definitions of the same thing. Now, we don't learn words by reading them out of the dictionary, so the meaning we have for words is really personalIzed for each of us and doesn't exactly follow a uniform standard; the standards in conveying meaning are sort of just picked up, and aren't really constant. So really, the word empathy means a different thing to different people, but most people think it means the same thing to everyone as they fail to see the fallacy. This create fallacy is that men seem the think two things are directly related when they are usually found together. While this usually works fine, once a circumstance emerges where the two things are not proportional in the expected way emerges the entire theory collapses. It is only at this point were it becomes needed to distinguish between the two related factors, which chances were thought of as the same thing before. At this point the original word used to describe the two looses all meaning. Empathy is only one word that looses its meaning when we go out of the realm of normal. Intelligience looses it's meaning once we look at savants. All sorts of words loose there meaning in theoretical science and theoritcal mathematics. I wonder if it's an autism ability to be able to separate these ideas into their actual components, as we are detail oriented.


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17 Feb 2012, 3:05 pm

I would say that empathy is the ability to have an internal representation of what other people feel. This representation may be cognitive or affective. But in fact, it may be anything, provided that you can understand other people. Maybe the most relevant axis that explain different empathies is the intensity of it. I mean that you can feel the same way if someone is telling something that is happy, but you should not do it if it is pain. It is better to keep a low intensity of the representation if it hurts. It does not prevent to understand, but it's more confortable. I believe that thinking that empathy must be at a high level makes people reject it because of course they do not want to suffer.



Sora
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17 Feb 2012, 3:58 pm

Ganondox wrote:
I wonder if it's an autism ability to be able to separate these ideas into their actual components, as we are detail oriented.


Well, yeah-no?

It is an autistic impairment to struggle with generalisation. Generalisation encompasses associating similar concepts that differ in details and are therefore not identical but still similar.

This impairment that affects a number of autistic "symptoms" (such as a need for routines) can be as advantageous as it can be disabling. Sometimes, it's simply handily providing insight as in cases such as this one.


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17 Feb 2012, 8:58 pm

Well written, Ganondox.


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MrXxx
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17 Feb 2012, 10:24 pm

Seriously asking this.

Is your posted age really true? 8O

You're posts sometimes seem as if you are far older than 15.


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Ganondox
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18 Feb 2012, 6:08 pm

MrXxx wrote:
Seriously asking this.

Is your posted age really true? 8O

You're posts sometimes seem as if you are far older than 15.


Yeah, I'm really 15.


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18 Feb 2012, 7:04 pm

Well, personally I think that "feeling what someone else is feeling" is merely a subset of "knowing and understanding what someone else is feeling" since to "know and understand" implies only the resulting state (an individual knows and understands what other individual feels) and not the means that created that state (the knowledge what other person feels can be acquired either on emotional level (affective empathy) or on the cognitive level (cognitive empathy)). Also, in real life, it is more accurate to use both cognitive and affective empathy to determine what others are feeling. Therefore I think that using the word 'empathy' with both meanings (cognitive and affective) is not a matter of confusing these two but making, in this case, correct generalization, since the affective or cognitive empathies could be rarely found alone.



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18 Feb 2012, 8:20 pm

Vito wrote:
Well, personally I think that "feeling what someone else is feeling" is merely a subset of "knowing and understanding what someone else is feeling" since to "know and understand" implies only the resulting state (an individual knows and understands what other individual feels) and not the means that created that state (the knowledge what other person feels can be acquired either on emotional level (affective empathy) or on the cognitive level (cognitive empathy)). Also, in real life, it is more accurate to use both cognitive and affective empathy to determine what others are feeling. Therefore I think that using the word 'empathy' with both meanings (cognitive and affective) is not a matter of confusing these two but making, in this case, correct generalization, since the affective or cognitive empathies could be rarely found alone.


Which is why most people think of them as the same thing, and the distinction only needs to be made with people who aren't normal. Treating as the same under a generalization works for most people, but not alexthymic people, or apathic people.


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Vito
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18 Feb 2012, 9:20 pm

Ganondox wrote:
Vito wrote:
Well, personally I think that "feeling what someone else is feeling" is merely a subset of "knowing and understanding what someone else is feeling" since to "know and understand" implies only the resulting state (an individual knows and understands what other individual feels) and not the means that created that state (the knowledge what other person feels can be acquired either on emotional level (affective empathy) or on the cognitive level (cognitive empathy)). Also, in real life, it is more accurate to use both cognitive and affective empathy to determine what others are feeling. Therefore I think that using the word 'empathy' with both meanings (cognitive and affective) is not a matter of confusing these two but making, in this case, correct generalization, since the affective or cognitive empathies could be rarely found alone.


Which is why most people think of them as the same thing, and the distinction only needs to be made with people who aren't normal. Treating as the same under a generalization works for most people, but not alexthymic people, or apathic people.


I think generalization works even for these kinds of people, because in order to understand empathy as a "knowing and understanding what someone else is feeling", you do not even need to know about different types of empathy, because "knowing and understanding what someone else is feeling" states only the resulting state, not the way which you get there. Hence it does not matter whether you distinguish the types of empathy or if you are not able to use one type of it; if you can "know and understand what others feel" you can generalize yourself as and empathetic person without further differentiating it.



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18 Feb 2012, 9:37 pm

Vito wrote:
Ganondox wrote:
Vito wrote:
Well, personally I think that "feeling what someone else is feeling" is merely a subset of "knowing and understanding what someone else is feeling" since to "know and understand" implies only the resulting state (an individual knows and understands what other individual feels) and not the means that created that state (the knowledge what other person feels can be acquired either on emotional level (affective empathy) or on the cognitive level (cognitive empathy)). Also, in real life, it is more accurate to use both cognitive and affective empathy to determine what others are feeling. Therefore I think that using the word 'empathy' with both meanings (cognitive and affective) is not a matter of confusing these two but making, in this case, correct generalization, since the affective or cognitive empathies could be rarely found alone.


Which is why most people think of them as the same thing, and the distinction only needs to be made with people who aren't normal. Treating as the same under a generalization works for most people, but not alexthymic people, or apathic people.


I think generalization works even for these kinds of people, because in order to understand empathy as a "knowing and understanding what someone else is feeling", you do not even need to know about different types of empathy, because "knowing and understanding what someone else is feeling" states only the resulting state, not the way which you get there. Hence it does not matter whether you distinguish the types of empathy or if you are not able to use one type of it; if you can "know and understand what others feel" you can generalize yourself as and empathetic person without further differentiating it.


But empathy isn't "knowing and understanding", it's "intellectually understanding OR feeling". There is no clear way to cut it for people who don't follow the normal balance. Yes, someone can arbitrary set up there own standards for decaying someone as empathetic or nonempathitc, but there is no standards used by all people.


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Empathy
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29 Jan 2016, 10:13 pm

I'm glad the last person had something positive to say about Empathy :)

Here is a list of things associated with Empathy

Are You An Empath?

If you are an Empath, you will experience a combination of some or all of the following symptoms:
You absorb other people's emotions like a sponge, carrying them as your own.
When someone close to you is physically ill, you can feel this as physical pains in your body.
You often suffer from physical or mental fatigue and tiredness.
You find Solitude immensely refreshing, and you require it to "recharge".
You often experience many mood swings or emotional states throughout the day.
Witnessing violence or cruelty is unbearable to you.
You are a very good listener.
People often come to you with their problems.
Animals and children are attracted to you.
You are caring and nurturing by nature.
You are hyper-aware of the physical environment, e.g. to smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing, etc.
You can't stand interpersonal conflict.
Crowded places are very overwhelming for you.



Joe90
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30 Jan 2016, 5:57 am

I must be an ''empath'' then.

Quote:
You absorb other people's emotions like a sponge, carrying them as your own.

Yes, I sometimes get dragged down by other people's emotions.

Quote:
When someone close to you is physically ill, you can feel this as physical pains in your body.

If a woman has a period cramp, I can empathize so much, that I suddenly get a period cramp too.
Also if I'm watching somebody having a massage or a hair cut, even on the telly, I feel really relaxed as if it's me having a massage or hair cut.

Quote:
You often suffer from physical or mental fatigue and tiredness.

All. The. Time.

Quote:
You find Solitude immensely refreshing, and you require it to "recharge".

All. The. Time.

Quote:
You often experience many mood swings or emotional states throughout the day.

Yes, yes, yes.

Quote:
Witnessing violence or cruelty is unbearable to you.

Yes, I cannot bear it.

Quote:
You are a very good listener.

I may be inattentive, but at the same time I am a good listener, in an empathy sense.

Quote:
People often come to you with their problems.

People do feel at ease talking to me because they know I won't judge or tell other's their personal business.

Quote:
Animals and children are attracted to you.

Hmm, not sure. Small children do tend to stare at me, sometimes babies look happy when they look at me, but I'm not very good at getting close to dogs, although I can cats sometimes.

Quote:
You are caring and nurturing by nature.

Yes, it is my nature to be caring, in fact too caring.

Quote:
You are hyper-aware of the physical environment, e.g. to smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing, etc.

I'm not too sure about this. I can actually filter out smells, bright lights, etc. Some noise I can filter out too, like the chattering and hustle and bustle of people in the street/shopping centre, but loud noises like car horns and small children just agitate me and I find it hard to ignore.

Quote:
You can't stand interpersonal conflict.

I hate interpersonal conflict at work. I get so affected by it, to the point where I become depressed and don't want to face being around people when there's conflict. I also hate conflict against me, it really upsets me, even if the signs that somebody is hostile to me are so subtle, I can still pick up on it and be affected by it.

Quote:
Crowded places are very overwhelming for you.

Yes, I hate people being too near me (unless I know them), and I hate people staring at me, and I hate people walking into me or stopping dead right in front of me, and I hate queues.....I just hate crowded places with small amount of space to move around. I don't mind crowded places if there's still plenty of space around to move about, but when you're almost like sardines, I cannot bear it. I have to remove myself from the situation.


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ToughDiamond
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30 Jan 2016, 7:47 am

Any word that has multiple definitions is likely to cause confusion. I've long felt that "empathy" would serve us better if it had just the one definition, i.e. "caring," and that autistic people should be referred to as being "mind-blind" rather than "non-empathic," otherwise folks get the idea that we don't give a damn about anybody but ourselves.



Empathy
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11 Jul 2016, 9:15 pm

ToughDiamond wrote:
I've long felt that "empathy" would serve us better if it had just the one definition, i.e. "caring," and that autistic people should be referred to as being "mind-blind" rather than "non-empathic," otherwise folks get the idea that we don't give a damn about anybody but ourselves.


It must be that hindsight has never given a damn about anyone but their selves.