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Sympathy - It Is Creeping Back Here

Discussion in 'Discussion' started by anthony, Apr 2, 2008.

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  1. a nonny mouse

    a nonny mouse Well-Known Member
    Premium Member

    I agree with Anthony - there is a very FINE line, yet sympathy and empathy are worlds apart.... theyre very different.

    Best way I can explain how *I* see them are :

    Sympathy = 'I feel very sorry you are in your shoes' - And my sense of the rational doesn't matter. Consider me your Kleenex tissue - I am feeling things like 'how dare they'... 'I feel pity for you', etc

    Empathy = I am going to place myself IN your shoes with a sense of objectivity. Thus, not being so blinded by pity - I will place myself in your shoes and understand your argument, whilst still maintaining a sense of objectivity and the 'bigger picture'.

    Sympathy = youre right, I feel so sorry for you
    Empathy = Whilst I can understand this must have been quite painful - I can see the forest, and not just the trees
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  3. a nonny mouse

    a nonny mouse Well-Known Member
    Premium Member

    Just as a personal aside - and no one has to agree with me :

    I don't like when people give me sympathy. It makes me feel very powerless. I don't see any reason why someone should feel sorry for me. Despite what has placed me in this position I would much prefer someone say - 'you have seen a lot and been through some very tough things - and you're alive. And you're strong'. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of someone pitying me. I don't even want to pity myself. I'd rather lose the subjectivity which goes hand in hand with emotions like pity, and regain some objectivity - seeing myself from a little further away and saying 'wow, it's actually pretty amazing you're still standing'.

    I've only been working with my current therapist for a couple of weeks and it has done absolute wonders. It has been SO hard. I barely sleep the night before a session and I really don't WANT to go. But I force myself to go. Because I don't want to spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself - no way! Sympathy is not a healthy emotion for me - its a very EASY one. But it's not particularly productive. I don't go to therapy so somebody can hold my hand and go 'ohhhhh that mustve have been awful - let's cry together'. I go to therapy so I can hear 'its ok if you cry - you are SO entitled to cry....... and when you're done, we're gonna work on what we are going to DO about that'. I am personally very grateful for my therapist and she comes at me from a sense of empathy. I'm not treated like a victim to be pitied - but rather a person with a LOT of strength and wisdom as a result of what has happened. Frankly, I wouldn't pay someone a lot of money to cry for/with me - I can do that for free. I'd rather pay them to ~understand~ why I'm crying and go about the business of fixing it.
    gizmo likes this.
  4. She Cat

    She Cat I'm a VIP
    Premium Member

    I soooooo agree with you, about sympathy. I don't want sympathy either.
    gizmo likes this.
  5. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom I'm a VIP
    Premium Member

    I have to agree with you superjen. I was recently in hospital following an O/D. Once I was 'better' (physically), I saw a psychiatric nurse, who was so pitying and sympathetic that I seriously wanted to punch her. (And I don't have any anger issues!). She just asked me questions then sat there with this pathetic look on her face, saying "oh dear, that must have been horrible for you", and "I can see why you might find it hard to cope, it must be very hard". I didn't want her sympathy, I needed her help to get me to a better place. Anyway, we got no-where fast. I got to the point, where she was so nauseating, I said what she needed to hear to get me out of there.
    TreeHugger, gizmo and She Cat like this.
  6. She Cat

    She Cat I'm a VIP
    Premium Member

    CB, your post made me giggle, as far as you wanting to punch her, but sad to that someone in her position would use sympathy, and think that is what you needed.....
    TreeHugger and gizmo like this.
  7. gdf

    gdf Well-Known Member
    Premium Member

    Pity and sympathy are close cousins it seems. I would take sympathy over pity but empathy is a more equal acknowledgment of our mutual humanness when given. Sympathy seems to put us in a lower status (as the receiver) than the person dispensing it, but then I guess Hallmark wouldn't sell many "empathy" cards. ; )
    gizmo likes this.
  8. a nonny mouse

    a nonny mouse Well-Known Member
    Premium Member

    The Hallmark thing made me giggle and think of a scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (was watching it last night). The Sympathy-gram shows up at the door and the sister answers.

    *Woman In Nurse's Outfit, singing*
    'I heard that you were feeling ill
    Headache, fever, and a chill
    I came here to restore your luck
    'Cause I'm the nurse who likes to.... *door slams*

    That would make a cracker of a Hallmark Card. One that plays the music when you open it.
    gizmo likes this.
  9. Pogonip

    Pogonip New Member
    Premium Member

    Having been a soldier, I will always consider myself a soldier, and coming from a Military family the idea of wanting sympathy and the whinning that goes along with seeking it seems so intolerable to me. I can understand and put myself in others shoes and I am a good listener, but my nature is to be a problem-solver. However, I envy people who know exactly what emotion they are feeling at a given time and express it. Between my up-bringing, and the emotional numbness that often goes with PTSD, I cannot openly express my emotions, particularly negative emotions. So, I hope that by trying to understand where someone is at and offering what strategies I find helpful that that is not overdoing it and being sympathetic rather than empathetic.

    Are there times when someone seems to be trying to seek sympathy they are simply trying to express un-expressed emotions because it is a new behavior? How do you know when your expressions of emotions cross the line to sympathy seeking?

    gizmo likes this.
  10. Cynthiatoo

    Cynthiatoo Active Member

    I want to heal, sympathy seems superfluous. I want solutions and I read the forum to find them, which I do and hopefully offer some. I find it impacts physically on me to see so much sympathy written into replies. The nerves in my arms and shoulders start hurting. I wish there was a section just for sympathy and it was not allowed into other threads or diaries. It puts me off writing my diary. When I do start I will make sure I write that.

    I don't want anyone going mad on me for being uncaring for writing this either, I am caring and sympathetic, I just dont want forty thousand sympathetic words written in amongst practical constructive advise.

    I am new here, but I want a straight path to getting better.

    Now I will take my numb arms and shoulders off before I get really p##sed off.
    gizmo likes this.
  11. Cynthiatoo

    Cynthiatoo Active Member

    Too much talking. Sorry guys, I may have offended. I think I am overwhelmed and should stop.
  12. anni

    anni Bucephalus ( an old war horse )
    Premium Member


    There's no such thing as too much talking, please don't worry! I just clicked on this thread because I don't quite understand what's up with it, but now understand it better, so thank you! :) Everyone is different, too, so what kind of works for one person might be awful for someone else. I thought you just plain said what you were feeling, and were not at all offensive.

    Sorry to jump in like this, but you seemed a little worried that something you said might have been 'wrong' or offensive? I took it as explanatory. :) I get overwhelmed. too, however, when an emotional button gets pushed.

  13. Cynthiatoo

    Cynthiatoo Active Member

    Thank you Anni. I am actually experience anger for the first time. It has only happened since being on the forum. I used to internalize it and shut down instead. I was actually feeling really angry when I wrote those posts and because it is new to me, I didnt know how to manage it. I assumed it would be yukky for others. It's a good thing and growth and I will learn that it is OK to feel angry. Thank you.
  14. anni

    anni Bucephalus ( an old war horse )
    Premium Member

    Hee! I have very little anger impulse, too, and tend to call it 'being indignant', or something less dramatic, so I know what you mean! I still do not have that knee-jerk, off the wall flash-anger that some do, which I guess I'm glad I don't have to deal with but wish it were easier to express things. It is healthy, I'm sure, to be able to begin to express oneself. I tend to be very contained when doing so still, but better than nothing! :) For what it's worth, maybe you felt terribly angry, but you didn't sound out of control or unreasonable at all! Strange how awful it feels, isn't it? I don't know if I'll ever get further than where I am with this, but it's better than not having any at all! :)
  15. gizmo

    gizmo Follow a rainbow trail.
    Premium Member

    Thanks for bringing this thread back up. I read the whole thing and learned so much.

    Personally I find pity and sympathy patronizing.

    I do not need pity which is destructive to me and it makes me angry too.

    But for a death of a loved one or the death of a pet sympathy has its place here.

    I prefer the cold hard facts and some empathy thrown in for good measure.

    Great thread.
    Tanishq and Recovery4Me like this.
  16. Left Behind Spouse

    Left Behind Spouse Active Member

    Similar to Guilt vs. Remorse.
    Guilt is constantly saying sorry I effed up and everyone hates me... it's selfish.

    Remorse is actually feeling it, actioning it and NOT projecting it.
    Tanishq and gizmo like this.
  17. BlueOrange

    BlueOrange Not alone in my head

    Difficult reading, particularly when I've just returned after having been banned without warning (about a year ago).

    I feel a lot of sympathy for what's-his-name, the one who was inarticulate and angry, and who knew that he was being inarticulate and angry, and bouncing off the walls unable to say cleanly that what we was looking for was a model he could follow for how to express himself constructively. His expression of his despairing script reminded me of my own despair.

    But Anthony had a lot of important things to say, and if I were in his position, I hope that I would choose the survival of the site as a whole over the confused self-expression of one person. Did he really need to ban me? Nobody will ever know for certain.

    I've spent most of my life feeling betrayed by authority figures who don't meet my expectations for their behaviour. Recently (having attained an amount of authority myself, and discovering that it's harder than it looks), I've been trying to build up my ability to forgive authorities for their imperfections.
  18. Philippa

    Philippa I'm a VIP

    Looking over this thread has helped me to reflect on my own feelings and conclusions about sympathy. I am with most people here in that I just don't feel comfortable with sympathy, but I have to say I seem to have attracted some female friends in my real life who want a LOT of sympathy, and I have real trouble dealing with that, and their reactions when I don't give them enough of it, or in their own minds I somehow am supposed to feel sorry for them, as though that will help the situation.

    I explored this years ago, and analysed how I came to think this way, and it was mainly just as it gets you nowhere. But at the same time, I grew up not receiving much in the way of sympathy (other than when I injured myself or was sick) so II definitely can relate to needing comforting words, as I have had nothing but the opposite from family and 'friend' during very difficult times when I had no comfort whatsoever, or solace. It just wasn't something that ever came, so I came to never expect least from the male members of my family.

    My mother did give me a certain amount of comforting and sympathy many times, so I can't really complain there, but I know at one stage in my later teenage life, things changed quite drastically, and she was no longer the comforting rock I had been so used to.

    Comfort I don't really see as being the same as sympathy, but I am at the moment having trouble defining what I do actually mean by comfort?

    I actually find it quite repulsive when female friends I've known have charged me with either not giving them enough sympathy (and having no trouble whatsoever asking, demanding and expecting it...or blaming me for "faking" the sympathy when I wouldn't give them more and they thought I owed them more)...which only made me disrespect them more. I've lost friendships over it and not been fussed at all about it, due to this one factor.

    Empathy is always helpful, sympathy is victim mentality, and it makes me feel powerless as well...but I started to feel a bit brainwashed by these women so boldly demanding it as though it were a perfectly natural, normal human need that no one needs to feel ashamed of. I have to remember that many people don't share the same beliefs or thinking as I do, but why am I attracting people with such victim mentalities into my life, that's the question I suppose?

    In any case, It did help me get clearer on the reactions I have had with some people in the past when I have vented...and I have had confusion over the difference between venting and complaining. It can be subtle. Venting I find helpful in itself though...I don't need anyones impact...whereas complaining is more a bad vibe that I would prefer to stop myself doing. I guess they are both about releasing certain "negative" energies that feel pent up and need to be aired, but it isn't well received by many people, that's for sure.
    Recovery4Me, itsKismet and gizmo like this.
  19. BlueOrange

    BlueOrange Not alone in my head

    Fairly recently, I said to a colleague, "I'm not in the business of coping with problems, I'm in the business of solving them." I agree with Anthony's point when he says (or when I perceive that he says) "Helping someone feel good about being caught in a trap risks having them stay in the trap." I'm glad that the point of this place is to get out of the trap.

    At the same time, too much anger, frustration and pain can lead to thrashing about, which keeps you trapped AND does more damage. Sympathy is a useful tool for helping someone avoid the self-injury that is inflicted by self-hatred.

    All the tools are dangerous if misused, and Anthony's mode of expression often lacks the nuance that we get from professional communicators (like therapists). When prompted well, the nuances come to light, and what appears to be a blanket denial of sympathy turns out to be a specific denial of the toxic phenomenon Philippa is talking about.
  20. Friday

    Friday Tempus Fugit
    Premium Member

    If there's a way of doing something badly, I'll probably latch onto it at least once.

    So even though this isn't my schtick, I've probably done it, am doing it, or will do it at some point. <grin> I like being able to count on being smacked upside the head and told to knock it off. Pura Vida.

  21. BlueOrange

    BlueOrange Not alone in my head

    Re-reading my posts in this thread, the word that comes to mind is 'bitchy'. It has been pointed out to me that bitchiness is very destructive to the health of an internet forum, and that I need to stop it. Having a lot of experience with internet forums, I agree entirely.

    I think it's relevant to the topic of this thread to point out that there's another kind of 'going too far' that seems to be discouraged here. The bluntness isn't just about not being overly kind, I think it's also about not being overly cruel. In PTSD, things drag on forever - the bluntness has a role in preventing that.
  22. Philippa

    Philippa I'm a VIP

    In my experience, bluntness works on certain personalities, and not on others. Finding out who it works on and who does not respond well to blunt communication is a whole journey of discovery in itself. Learning to adapt my own communication styles to be effective with different personality types is an interesting learning curve.

    I have had friends who have gone their own way only for us to be re-united at a later date, tell me that I was the only one who had the balls to tell them what they didn't want to hear...and that earned me respect, even though, at the time it was upsetting. Others have parted ways never to reconnect and perceived me as rude. All depends on the person and how receptive they are to moving forward and changing.
    joeylittle and BlueOrange like this.
  23. Hashi

    Hashi I'm a VIP

    For me, the issue is lack of being able to combine understanding/wanting to be understood with moving forward.

    My heart sinks when I see a post along the lines of "I've been triggered by the colour blue for years. Today I saw the colour blue and I'm massively triggered" then responses that say only things like "Blue is triggering for me too" and "I totally get it, for me it's the colour red" and "You have to accept that you'll aways be triggered by the colour blue, and try to manage that, for the rest of your life."

    My heart also sinks when I see responses like, "You have to sit with the colour blue until your hair is standing on end and you have seven nightmares a night for a month. That's life - accept it."

    What I really hope for is for someone to say, I've always been triggered by blue and I want to get over this but it's so hard" and a response that says "Yes for me it was yellow, and it was really, really hard but I did X, Y and Z and finally I can be with yellow and be OK".

    Why do I feel so alone with this?
    Tanishq, Recovery4Me, catjudo and 3 others like this.
  24. itsKismet

    itsKismet I'm a VIP
    Premium Member

    This is my take, and how I see things.....

    Empathy is when I can practically put myself into the other person's shoes (or they in mine) as we have had very similar experiences in life. In regards to PTSD, I get no empathy in my real life, only here on the forum. That is, nobody can give me empathy because they haven't experienced anything like my trauma or resulting disorder.

    Sympathy is close to empathy, but without the "in your shoes" bit. I can feel sorrow for another's position without having experienced it myself. One would be a soldier returning from the front lines of Combat or someone who has been in a deadly car accident, etc. I have not had these experiences, so empathy is off the table, but I can, indeed sympathize and give my support.

    Sympathy and Empathy are neighbors. They live on the good side of town. Pity is the black sheep of the family and lives in a van down by the river. (Kudos to you if you get that reference!) Pity is reserved for those times when I see someone as nothing but pathetic. I cannot put myself in their shoes. One example would be child abusers, especially those of the female variety. [I was abused by 2 females.] No sympathy for them, and since I've never violated a child, they sure as heck aren't getting any empathy. The only thing left for them is pity, as I see them as nothing but pathetic. I will not put myself in their shoes, as I will not lower myself to such depths. It is very much a sense of disdain.

    I realize I define my words a bit differently than here on the forum, but there are also sites online that discuss sympathy as not always including pity, which is pretty much what I have done in my own determination of what these words mean to me. But, if we go by the forums definition of sympathy (which again, is not my own), I think its pretty safe to say that I've given no one any sympathy whatsoever. Coddle, schmoddle. I hate that stuff!
    Philippa and Hashi like this.
  25. BlueOrange

    BlueOrange Not alone in my head

    Well said, @Hashi - I really like the way you described the things you don't like and the things that you do like; that helps me understand what you're aiming for. If I understand correctly, you're saying that you want people to respond with help, and you're disappointed when they respond with sympathy instead. One reason why this forum is really good (even if it draws out some of my pathology sometimes) is that there are a lot of people who think help is more important than sympathy.

    When you're struggling with a problem, it can be very discouraging when people want the pain to go away, and they seem to want that more than they want the problem to go away. And most of the time, our problems are less of a priority for the people around us than their own pain is. That might be part of why you feel like you're alone.

    The trick (which is far easier for me to say than it is for me to do) is to try to be explicit about wanting help when you want help. Instead of saying "I'm unhappy about being triggered by the colour blue," it is probably better to say "I'm unhappy about being triggered by the colour blue. Does anyone have any ideas on how I might be able to get over it?"

    I'm feeling a bit insecure, and would genuinely appreciate feedback as to whether this was the kind of response you were hoping for.
    Hashi likes this.
  26. Hashi

    Hashi I'm a VIP

    @BlueOrange, you are very wise! When I posted this I was thinking about other people starting threads. What you said made me realise that it's exactly the same if I start a thread myself. It has sometimes - not always - happened that I've started a thread wanting understanding and advice, but the responses have focussed on understanding. Precisely because I didn't say the "any ideas...?" bit.

    To be fair, maybe I should turn it around and say that the threads that I've started on here that have helped me incredibly are those where people have been both understanding and constructive. It's a very powerful combination, and one that I do often come across here. Tbanks for helping me realise this. :)
    BlueOrange likes this.
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