The Three Strands of Empathy

THE3STRANDSOF EMPATHY

The concept of empathy can be divided into three types. There are three identifiable strands.

First of all there is the idea of cognitive empathy whereby one can understand the point of view of another person. I am able to understand another person’s point of view but I will rarely accede to it, unless I see some ulterior gain to be obtained from expressing that I understand their point of view. Even where I explain I understand, I am still unlikely to accept it. The Lesser and the Mid-Range are unable to understand that person’s point of view because it will oppose their own, stand in the way of what they want to achieve and frustrate their aims owing to their differing perspective. They lack the cognitive function to address this. Of course, empathic individuals are experts at understanding another person’s point of view but they will go further than this. They will exhibit patience to allow that point of view to be articulated, they will ask questions to draw out this view and they will apply it to their own situation and experiences. Empathic individuals want to understand the other person’s point of view. They not only give it a platform to begin with, but they also allow it to be aired, expanded and applied. It is little wonder therefore that this cognitive empathy bleeds into the empathic traits of patience, needing to understand and needing to know the truth. Furthermore, having such cognitive empathy means that the empathic individual is far more susceptible to the word salad, circular conversations, lies and half-answers that our kind provide. The empathic individual endures these manipulations as he or she tries to wade through the quagmire in order to flex their cognitive empathy so that they understand the narcissist’s point of view. Of course, since our point of view operates from a completely distorted and different perspective, you have little hope of achieving it.

Secondly, there is also empathy concern whereby one is able to recognise the emotional state of another person, feel a need to address that emotional state and therefore exhibit the appropriate concern for the individual. In all three schools of narcissism, our capacity with regard to empathy concern is skewed. The Greater is always able to perform the recognition part of this but has never been created with the sense of needing to address it even though our increased cognitive function means we can work out, through observation and experience, what the appropriate concerned response should be. This means that we can recognise somebody is in distress, understand that they need help but feel no compulsion whatsoever to provide it. We will however, because we have two of the three parts of empathy concern, feign a concern based on our understanding, but only if we see it as serving our interests. This is why, during seduction especially or for the benefit of the façade during devaluation, we can appear that we are concerned that somebody is worried or upset. We do not feel any need to assist them, but we recognise our own need can be served by doing so.

The Lesser is able to recognise the emotional state of another person, feels no need to address it and is unable to exhibit the appropriate concern for the individual. As a consequence, even during seduction, the Lesser will present as blank-faced when dealing with certain emotional episodes and will often vacate him or herself from the situation. During devaluation, he will only see the fuel advantage from this emotional state and indeed rather than be supportive, since he feels no need to, he will just exploit it further.

The Mid-Ranger also recognises the emotional state, feels no need to address it and has a limited repertoire by way of fake concern. Thus in some instances he can pretend that he is concerned and in others he has no answer and will leave the victim to their woe and distress and has enough calculation to state he has somewhere urgent he must be and thus he escapes the demand for assistance and help made by the victim.

Unsurprisingly, the empathic individual has all three elements of this particular strand of empathy intact and in intense quantities. The empathic individual is able to recognise the emotional state of another with considerable ease, even if they are trying to mask it. They absolutely feel and recognise the need to do something when they see somebody else’s emotional reaction. This compulsion is almost irresistible for the empathic individual and they are also fully-acquainted with what they should do by way of response. They will share in the joy, congratulate when someone is happy through good news, console when someone is miserable and hold them when they are heart-broken. The empathic individual is no different with our kind and see our emotional response – albeit from a limited selection – feels the need to address it and also knows how to address it. Thus when we discharge our fury, our hatred, our envy and our antipathy, the empathic individual owing to this concern empathy is always galvanised into action, will rarely shirk the challenge and addresses the issue even at considerable cost to themselves.

Finally there comes the idea of the emotional contagion. This is a deep-seated and one may even regard it as a spiritual element of the empathic individual. This is not just about understanding a point of view or recognising an emotional need and response, this is about feeling the emotion just as somebody else does. Thus if a friend is upset over the death of a parent, the empathic individual is contaminated by this grief and experiences the same emotions as if they were grieving themselves. This not only means that they fountain with fuel which of course our kind will exploit but that they are powered into recognising the need and doing something about even more than would be afforded by the cognitive empathy and concern empathy. The emotional contagion exists in all empathic individuals but is more intense in certain people. Indeed, its intensity may even go beyond being proximate to the person experiencing the emotion. A highly-attuned individual with the emotional contagion will watch a television programme and where the main character is frightened,they will feel that fear also. They will read a moving newspaper article about the plight of an orphan and they will feel that despair as well. It is an immensely powerful part of empathy and causes the empathic individual to have to respond to it.

We have no such emotional contagion. It is completely absent and therefore we have nothing which might cause us to feel something so we act upon it. There is nothing there. The plight of the orphan is not felt by us and we are utterly unmoved. The fear of the heroine on television is regarded with annoyance since our primary source seems more concerned about that person than us. The only time that we regard this emotional contagion as any use is when it serves our purposes when the empathic individual fountains with fuel because of it and directs their empathic traits towards us. We do not have this contagion and we do not feel anything in the way that you would do.

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51 thoughts on “The Three Strands of Empathy”

  1. Empathy has been my downfall, along with codependency. I don’t necessarily see it as a gift but a part of me. My hyperawareness was constantly scanning for problems to head off. Rushed in to fix problems, make people feel better, take on their burden. I had no sense of my own boundaries, and certainly didnt understand for a long time that others have boundaries too. I’m still attuned to situations, but now stop and ask myself if my help is appropriate to that person or even to me. I’ve stopped being everyone’s go-to fixer which has caused some loss of ‘friends’ who I can see saw me as a soft touch. This has given me some breathing space. My intentions were good, but at times i needed to take care of me first. It hasnt been easy, but sometimes others need to deal with their own mess.

  2. Well, I have huge cognitive and emotional empathy but I never feel I should help. I hate doing it, to be entirely honest. It’s embarasing and tiring. I used to feel guilty because of this feeling, but not anymore.
    As for cheating, I intelectually understand how the cheated spouse can feel about it but I cannot feel what they feel when they discover they have been cheated. I honestly think they overreact about it. I can understand the cheated spouse can feel hurt, but the truth is they are a bit selfish if they think they can provide everything one needs over a long time. It’s irational to expect monogamy. Maybe it works for them, but to imagine their spouses feel the same ?! It’s hard for me to understand this. Being with the same person for years is boring, no matter how good, nice or atractive the person is. I also have a hard time understanding how and why people expect monogamy. This is the most selfish attitude ever- you should not do it or sant it because I don’t do it or want it.
    But I admit the cheating should be performed in taste and discretion.

    1. Q, my narc tried to sell me on that. He even gave me a little sample. I’m still not buying.

      You say cheating should be performed in taste and discretion. When you are cheating you are lying, breaking a promise/vow, and selfishly hurting someone. Could you explain how this could be done in good taste?

      I believe an open relationship is possible for some. That can only be done when partners have a lot of conversation, firm boundaries set first and a huge amount of trust in each other. Even then one partner usually ends up hurt.

      Have you ever been cheated on?

      1. Mercy, I was just thinking about what you said. I agree. If someone knows beforehand that they cannot and not willing to be monogamous, they have to be upfront. Having an open relationship is the eay to go or staying single because you are not betraying anyone’s trust.

      2. Mommypino, yep exactly. Cheating is a lie. If all parties are aware and that’s your thing, go for it.

  3. A lot of times I actually know when someone is lying to me but my default response is to try to understand what makes this person lie to me. I usually don’t call them out because I have a default filter in my head to put myself on that person’s shoes if I make that person unconfortable or ashamed after I call him/her out. But now that I know that nature of narcissism I can put less effore in trying to understand what made that person lie and just have acceptance that sonetimes there are people who would do things like that without a good reason, it’s just part of their make and I can have peace of mind.

    Also, I noticed that a difference that I have as an empath compared to my husband is that I notice a lot of things that he doesn’t. For example, with the Somatic handyman who tried to seduce me while working here, I noticed that his face had a really fast almost split-second expression of pride when my husband gave him unsolicited personal advice. My husband thought that he was being fatherly to this guy but I picked up from his quick change in expression, which he also adjusted really quickly, that he was offended by my husband. I can also tell that he didn’t like my husband. Which added to the reasons that I fought my feelings of attraction because I sensed something sinister even though the chemical in my brain was makig it impossible to judge him. I still recognized a lot of the red flags and heeded the warnings from my brain even though my heart wanted me to do something else.
    This is embarrassing for me to admit, I am really ashamed, but thankfully I am anonymous here so for the sake of education, I will admit that at that time, the only empathy that I had left for my wonderful and loving husband was cognitive empathy. Now I understand why some people who cheated on their spouse said that it wasn’t about the spouse that was cheated on. It is so true. You’re minding your own business with a loving spouse and then one day this person comes along so focused and intent on seducing you and all of a sudden your love and loyalty shifts from your spouse to this other person. Your heart was taken away. All that I had left was the cognitive empathy of how it will hurt my spouse. My heart was not into it, insteadbit was so busy dreaming about this other guy. But I acted to follow that cognitive empathy and it was so amazingly hard. I guess I had a little peek on how it is to be a narc for a little bit.

    1. Mommypino, “You’re minding your own business with a loving spouse and then one day this person comes along so focused and intent on seducing you and all of a sudden your love and loyalty shifts from your spouse to this other person. Your heart was taken away.”

      Yep, this is your brain on drugs. #justsaynotonarc

      1. MB & Mommypino, I would Like this if WordPress would let me. As a single person I’m always amazed at how loose and flirtatious married people are. Single people don’t do those things with each other, we’re more distant because we’re available, so playing with people might look like an invitation. I was very loyal and pushed off advances when I was married, even though I didn’t even like my husband. I like your explanation very much, and know narcissists are a bad influence and get people to do things they never would’ve before.

      2. Thank you Kel. They really are bad influences. The narc seemed to enjoy seeing me struggling to hide my attraction towards him. When he did the up and down look at me like he was scanning my body, my face automatically turned into disgust and disbelief that he did that but my reaction didn’t even concern him, it actually made him chuckle. Now I know that even reactions of disgust is fuel. After having found this blog everything makes sense to me now. And then I have also uncovered that my mom and half sister are narcs. Some people are sent to us to teach us something and not to be a part of it.

      3. Mommypino,

        Omg, you are so right! I can completely relate to what you said about his brazen ups and downs. And I also discovered my mother and brother were narcissists after I came to this site and learned about narcissism. There were all these pieces that came together and solved the puzzle.

      4. Yup, brain on drugs is absolutely correct. That’s why I make it a point to be extra careful around the time of my ovulation – I can feel my ‘lizard’ brain trying to take over and get me to mate.

        I’m not sure how many women notice that about themselves or how many it actually affects to a meaningful degree, but it has saved me on several occasions when I found myself becoming briefly infatuated with someone and since I didn’t nourish the feeling with romantic thoughts etc., it went away and afterwards I found myself thinking “what the hell was that about”.

      5. I remember that was indeed ovulating when the attraction to the narc happened. Then add his behaviors and interactions with me that increased the oxytocin and other chemicals of attraction to my brain. I looked up from google that it takes about four months of no contact for the infatuation chemicals to dissipate. And it was about right. Although I have already started to read from this blog at around two months after the narc encounter. The articles here helped me get rid of the “what ifs” and the emotional thinking because U learned the reasons behind his weird behaviors.

      6. Yes Mommypino! Knowing the reasons behind the actions is what cured me too. Plus, now I know the addiction is a real thing and I’m not crazy. (Well, maybe a little crazy…)

      7. It really was like I was craving for drugs. One night I was holding my phone with so much urge to text him. I have his number from his card but I didn’t give him mine. Thank goodness I was able to resist contacting him. Not seeing him after the doses of oxytocin that I got from the encounters with him where his voice and expressions were so sweet, polite but suggestive, then sometimes contrasted with animalistic and laser focused eye contacts. He really mastered his art.

      8. Ha ha MB so true! I’m the same. I remember when my husband met my mom for the first time, even though I told him wheb we were just starting to date that I have a crazy mom, he was so shocked. He said that he can’t believe that I still turned out “almost close to normal”. Crazy people are happier though. 😊

    2. Hi mommypino
      I hope you’re well today.
      I appreciate your honesty and thoughts about your situation.

      How many of us just assume that we’ll be impervious to temptation or to pleasure elsewhere just because we’ve said “I do”? It just shows that it serves us better to be realistic about our vulnerabilities, in every area of our lives.
      Our faith or beliefs don’t alter our vulnerability. I think it’s interesting that we’re called sheep in one analogy, so we can be clear that there’ll always be someone wanting to, and able to, take us down.
      Apropos of HG telling us GOSO , we don’t hang around and see how much we can take before we’re seduced (at best), don’t try to see where our tipping point is, just know we’re vulnerable, don’t try to quantify exactly how much, just remove ourselves.
      We can’t ever let our guard down when we’re swimming with sharks, can we? There’s always a chance we might get bitten. Better to know in advance.

      I think it sounds great that you and your husband talk about these things and tackle it together. That’s the best outcome for this incident.

      1. Thank you Caroline. It’s so true. I didn’t even know that I had a vulnerability. I have always seen myself as strong minded. I guess I was actually more vulnerable now that I am married. I was complacent and didn’t think anybody would pursue me like that and that I would be attracted to anyone. He was not even my type. Now that I learned so much the res flags make more sense and I know that once I see them I should avoid immediately so that the narc will not see me as a fuel source.

  4. I am definitely a 3 It’s what I refer to as a authentic empath The ability to actually feel other people‘s emotions or even physical pain was something I was born with for a long time I thought there was something wrong with me and then I realised with my brother actually that I was feeling his anxiety freaked him out when I told him he had just had an anxiety attack He was worried he’s been caught out with something illegal he fears being around me now however he doesn’t bother to lie to me any more but I got smeared pretty badly with all of my family friends after that
    I always know when my kids have a problem before they call me , I can feel people at a distance
    The only way I can explain how fury manifest physically with me is it feels like this intense pain like I’m being stabbed with 1000 knives probably the one you would understand the most Not all empathic people have this but it’s very useful when comes going to supernova I haven’t lost yet I only go there when it is completely necessary like my children safety depend on

    1. I don’t have the third strand of empathy as much as you do. I think it’s so cool that some people have that gift.

      1. Mommypino

        If one isn’t a narcissist they have the strain, some more then others.

        Imagine a room with babies, one starts to cry then another then another so on and so forth, that is emotional contingency in action. Laughter is contagious, again emotional contingency in action. The higher the strain in a person the more “spiritual” they are.

        I am still waiting to read HGs perspective of the Contagion Empath. His vast knowledge of each school has been impressive.

      2. Thanks for clarifying that Twilight. I have that but not in a spiritual degree.

        He is indeed amazing at his ability to understand people. His descriptions of narcs separated into different schools and cadres are spot on. He obviously had an affluent upbringing but his description of my Lesser Victim mom is so accurate which most people with affluent upbringing would not even be able to imagine. My husband was actually shocked when he first met her.

        His descriptions of empaths were so amazing as well. I would love to see more articles about different empaths. And maybe also more detailed articles about codependents vs standard empaths vs super empaths.

      3. Mommypino

        Your welcome.
        When HG first spoke of the Contagion I started to dig deeper into the emotional contingency strain.

        When one sees things from a spiritual side of this, life looks and feels different.

      4. Yes Twilight. I enjoyed that book even though it was really dark compared to the books that I normally read. Why did you ask?

      5. Mommypino

        I asked because to said you would like to read more about empaths. IMO Chained is a good reference when looking at the a co dependent or at least how one can become a codependent.

      6. Thank you Twilight. It was indeed very informative and interesting. If I would base myself on how that book describes a codependent, that would not be me. Even though I was also raised by a matrinarc, I can’t see myself staying in a relationship like that.

  5. Thought provoking HG
    Can you recommend any other authors on the topic of empathy?
    Have you done much reading on empathy yourself? Or are your hypotheses based on observation and personal experience?

    1. Ross Rosenberg is another author and speaker on Empaths and Codependants. Very informative. Not as good as HG’s of course, but still very helpful.

      1. Thank you for your recommendation inspire2bu

        I watched Ross’ video on covert narcissists late last year. Like you say, good but not in the same league as HG. Please correct me if I’m wrong HG but I think ‘coverts’ lie in the mid-range and are often angels with dirty faces. HGs categorisations have been able to explain this type of narc much more comprehensively than the current accepted classifications.
        I’ll have a look at his publications…..

        I was actually curious to see what Prof Tudor himself had read.

      2. Covert is too narrow – you will find covert behaviours in Mid Range and Greater, but the term covert is insufficient with regard to a category of narcissists.

    2. Thank you for your reply and correction HG.
      I ditched usage of the term ‘covert narc’ after discovering your work.
      Yes, that makes sense it’s too narrow. I suppose it’s identifying N behaviours and not a type of N as it is commonly used.

  6. Just reminded of my victim-N sister’s choice of artwork on the wall in her house. I am struck by the significance of it.
    She has little personal style, preferring to look a bit pathetic physically and generic (Hmm, perhaps it’s a ‘costume’ to garner fuel and deflect anyone’s attempts to get her to take responsibility for her abusive behaviour. She appears so bland, and yet has the ‘you say bitch like it’s a bad thing’ magnet on her fridge). She has no interior design taste; as with her physical appearance, so with the house.
    Over the years, she’d resist any offers of mine to take her out and buy her some flattering outfits. She’d never let me know until the last minute either, no matter how many conversations I had with her to address it.
    Can you all hear the penny dropping loudly?
    But I digress…

    The artwork was a close up of a baby fur seal on the snow. It gave her an appearance of caring, and of having an interest in social justice. There was no interest.
    She is the first to spitefully kick you when you’re down, and laugh at your misfortune. She hurts her children’s feelings to hurt me. She laughs smugly when her children are unwell, especially if they’re nauseated, but resents them being unwell more than two days, she gets irritated about it all. She’s harsh in actuality.

    She took a position as a teacher’s aide some years ago, and nearly collapsed from the stress of it because she didn’t have it in her to give. I found that interesting at the time because I would have thrived in that position. I saw clearly then that we are very different people, although she tried so much to be like me in mannerisms, handwriting and style, voice tone, inflections & cadence. When we still lived with our parents, people would often tell me that she sounds exactly like me on the phone.

    I watched her at my uncle’s funeral, sitting facing my aunt, and she was basically doing an impression of me, but not with any of my words. Her sum total of words of fake empathy are “goodness me”. That’s all she has.
    I hadn’t seen her for two years so it was good to be able to experience and observe her with some objectivity.

    I wanted to be distinct from her from early childhood. I would cry inwardly when N-Mum tried to make her and me look the same, or if she’d give us identical presents. So back to N-sister and her teacher’s aide position:
    she would get irritable at the students’ constant neediness, and wanting emotional support. I would listen and be supportive,, but she seemed to be unqualified for the job. I wasn’t sure whether it was her lack of experience, or of education, or …. I didn’t know. She didn’t have an extensive fuel matrix, so I suppose demand exceeded supply.

    1. Caroline, you refer to your sister’s physique as “pathetic”, “generic” and to her lack of taste and style, according to you. You then emphasise how much your sister wished to be like you and tried to immitate you when you were younger and how much you wanted to be – and are – different from her. Why would you then i.e. try to convince her to change and buy “more flattering clothes”?

      1. Hi Saskia,
        What I said possibly didn’t come out well.

        My sister is a beautiful looking girl, but she would dress very badly and unflatteringly. She dresses as though she’s fat, and she’s not. She came across as having low self esteem, and I wanted her to live up to her potential, and feel good about herself, especially in a professional capacity. It’s the ‘look good, feel good’ premise. I didn’t want her to be like me, but to be her best self.
        I wanted to help her have some clothes that fit, were not faded, torn, stretched, shapeless, and weren’t oversized frump clothes (in colours that made her look ill) which are unnecessary. I wanted to help her with some well-fitting underwear. I was more than happy to pay for whatever she needed.
        I wanted to be good to her, and to see her thrive.
        I wanted her to feel confident to pursue a job that she thrived in. I wanted her to use her talents, be respected, grow into her potential as a woman. I wanted us to be friends, like Kate and Pippa Middleton. I only offered to take her out for her birthday or for Christmas, or as a treat, so there wasn’t any pressure.
        My sister used to like to look attractive while she was a teenager but once she hooked her co-dependant husband, she rebranded herself as someone who needs lots of ‘feel-sorry-for-me’ attention.

        Her goal and mine weren’t the same, so that’s the root of my frustration. I hope this clarifies things.

  7. I am deeply empathetic but come off as cold in many instances because I know that my empathy makes me vulnerable. I have been taken advantage of too many times so I hold back my emotional reactions. Showing empathy to the wrong person can lead to total violation.

    One of the things that spooks me out about Narc Friend in hindsight is how he knew when he was being unempathetic, when the mask had slipped, and took deliberate measures to cover it up later. Once when I was worried about walking somewhere in the dark alone, he was a total jerk about it and refused to walk with me. Then the next morning he pretended like he hadn’t done that. And the next time he saw me, he made a big point of chivalrously walking me somewhere in the dark, a year after the initial incident. He also criticized someone for not paying enough attention to him, but later talked about how that person was probably “overworked.” It was hard to tell if he had simply reflected on his own behavior and changed or if he was manipulating my perception of him.

    He also claimed that he had quit a previous job because he felt like he was party to defrauding underprivileged customers. This was one of the things that made me really like him initially, and I thought he might be a fellow empath, although even then I found it somewhat implausible. He sounded very principled. Something tells me he wouldn’t have much issue with defrauding anyone. He certainly had an impressive, albeit inconsistent, repertoire of faux empathy.

    1. Michelle, thank you for sharing. It seems that he was manipulating you with his faux facade and that he merely appeared to have changed or reflected on his behaviour in order to appease or impress you.

      “Showing empathy to the wrong person can lead to total violation.”

      I understand your feelings about being vulnerable and relate – I come off as far more reserved and cold than I actually am. I feel that especially over the last years, I have learned to dim down my more empathic, emotional side – it is of advantage in some areas of life where firm boundaries are of particular importance, for example at work.

    2. Michelle,
      The only way to fix all that, is to actually do the opposite. Forgive yourself, practice gratitude, and living in love (with boundaries). The coldness will go away when you shine your empathic energy again. Healing and “practicing” self compassion is what keeps the narcissist away, not being wounded like them.

  8. So based on the multiple deficits and deficiencies you admittedly possess, the evidence adds up that you are intrinsically flawed, inferior, and incapable of being fully human. Therefore, omnipotent you most definitely are not and a god most emphatically not.

    The framing of your material is usually (always?) done to gather fuel, and traps both you and your target (audience) in faulty mindsets about aspects of escape and healing.

    I also have come to recognise that I feel the same feelings you describe, but for such a brief flash before moving on to the next stage that I had failed to even notice them. You are stuck in the infantile ME while emotionally healthy individuals can move genuinely into self and others mature WE.

    I will again point out that you have failed to apply your own advice to yourself.

    Instead, you continue to fuel your fear. You run around enslaved by your fear. You are puppeted by your fear. You keep yourself stuck.

  9. HG,
    I am finding myself becoming utterly obsessed with your work. I hope this is a positive.
    I am all 3 of the Empaths. I don’t mind being the Cognitive Empath or having Empathy Concern. The 3rd, Emotional contagion I wish to tame now that I have been enlightened… Thank you

    1. You are welcome. Being a keen student of my work is the road to freedom – ensure you use the cool, hard logic.

  10. I think empaths take a moment to make a difference to someone else, it’s a task that doesn’t hurt them but that someone else needs. It’s being responsible.

    1. Kel

      I disagree with your assessment in making a difference to someone else as being a responsibility, it is what society has taught us is our responsibility. When something has been made to be a responsibility it changes the intent from coming from a place of compassion to coming from a sense of being responsible for another’s emotion they are projecting. Which in turn can make the “responsibile” party feel rejected when it isn’t accepted in the way their perspective views things.

      Empathy is being able to understand and “feel” another, compassion is empathy in action given freely, responsibility is expectation of behavior. IMO.

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