The Three Strands of Empathy

the-three-strands-of-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, recognise and understand what the emotions of another person mean and what the accepted response should be. 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.

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.

Greater Narcissists have substantial cognitive empathy. We understand the other person’s point of view and emotions. We also know how to respond so we can mimic the external indicators of those emotions which we do not possess (such as joy, happiness, sadness or concern) and thus we fit in with those around us with considerable ease. There is the slightest discernible delay as we rapidly recall what the appropriate response is and then ensure we arrange our features, language, tone and body language to match the emotion we wish to convey. We do not feel it.

Mid Range Narcissists has good cognitive empathy and therefore follow a similar path to that of the Greater Narcissist, however there may be more of a delay before the mimicked emotion is displayed. Sometimes the MRN will get it wrong and provide a response which is somewhat out of sync to what is required, or may come across as stiff and robotic, since they do not have the practised ease of the Greater in mimicking the acceptable response.

As for the Lesser Narcissist, they either have no cognitive empathy at all (Lower Lesser and Middle Lesser) or very limited cognitive empathy (Upper Lesser) accordingly you will be faced with someone staring at you as they are unable to comprehend what they should be doing. This coupled with their lack of awareness means they often have no idea that there is something wrong and similarly have no idea of what the appropriate response ought to be.

Secondly, there is also empathy concern or emotional empathy whereby one is able to instinctively feel the emotional state of another person, feel a need to address that emotional state and therefore show the appropriate concern for the individual usually through actions, as opposed to solely through words.

In all three schools of narcissism, our capacity with regard to emotional empathy is absent. We feel nothing for anybody else. Our cognitive empathy (where applicable) enables us to recognise something is wrong, what the response of the individual means (anger, hurt, upset, frustration etc) and therefore we can (should we deem it in our interests (calculated where Greater or instinct for the Mid Range Narcissist) to respond in a particular way, but we do not feel anything. There is no emotional response from us to your situation. We do not share your joy, we do not feel the need to comfort you because of your pain, we do not feel concern in our chests for your misfortune. We merely observe and intellectualise the response (where appropriate).

We feel nothing.

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. An element of 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. Those with a majority element of the emotional contagion (the Contagion Empath) experiences the positive and negative feelings or energy of others, even when distant and this feels uplifting possibly overpowering, or draining and indeed burdensome. Those with the majority element of the emotional contagion feel a deep-seated connection, they experience the ‘presence of others’ and find it necessary at times to remain away from people in order to divest themselves of the deleterious effects of being able to ‘feel’ so much.

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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56 Comments

  1. Sweetest, Sometimes the smallest things seen to agitate the hell out of me! I especially find this happens after a very stressful day or event that has happened. These are times that I now realize I am trying to calm down and recoup some of that energy that I have lost. I get agitated when my phone rings at times! Lol

    1. Thank you FM1T. I’m not particularly stressed right now but it’s true that when I was entangled to the narc I was like a gas leak near a pack of matches, an explosion about to happen at any moment. Anything triggered me and I was always in a horrible mood. It’s true that getting out brings peace.

        1. Thank you, FM1T. I’m calmed, but still alert. I fear that at some point he will get bored and revisit old supplies. Sometimes I have such a heavy feeling of guilt that I can’t breath. I frequently think I have allowed another person to destroy my entire life if he wants to, any given day. I wake up every morning thinking of this. So there is calmness, but still a lot of anxiety.

          1. SP, Now you are prepared if he returns and you will handle it the way HG has taught you to. I can not give you advice on guilt, there has been times where I have been consumed with guilt and in most cases it was just my own Emotional Thinking causing it. You will get there SP, one step at a time sweetie. 😘🙃

          2. FM1T, oh, I don’t want him. I see through him now, it’s true that once you see them there’s no unseeing them. I find him childish, ridiculous, and even a little repulsive. I’m scared he destroys my marriage or my career. But yes, you are right, all of this is ET. I could do exactly the same to him if I want to. Thanks for your sweet words. I often feel very identified with the worries you all share, the lack of motivation and praise from our families in the past, and other common background but I don’t wanna seem like I’m faking it: me too me too me too! But I feel down sometimes too, and this blog helps me tons to cheer up and feel stronger 😘😘😘

  2. Claire. Regarding not feeling empathy at times: Our survival instincts kick in or we would cease to function. I was raised in a small town, and I never saw with my own eyes a homeless person living in the street until I visited or lived in large cities. When they asked for money, I always gave. When I moved to NYC in my early 20`s, I remember that I would hand over a dollar or so to each, to the point that I realized that this was an impossibility. So, I learned to walk by them and around them like most people and largelyI cut off that sorrow for them that I felt each day. The question is, where does that sorrow that I largely cut off actually go? The same for natural disasters and terrorism and school shootings and such. The first few times, It is quite distressing, and then it happens over and over and I ask, what`s new. Who can stop all this? Only when it is in my vicinity, or when there is some other reason that it is intimate to me, I mourn a bit, but then I still have to close the feelings down and go about my day. Where did the feelings of distress and mourning go, within myself, when I close them down or off? Where is that place located within my self that I have to store these feelings, so that I can function? We All Have Limits. Whether or not someone else believes our limit should not yet be reached at a certain point, or whether or not we could foresee that the limit was about to be reached. Sometimes we do not even know the limit, but when it happens, we say or feel, so to speak: That is it! The Reservoir is full! I can take no more of this at this moment, or ever again, or something bad will spill over and that will not be good for me and perhaps it will not be good for you, as well. Thus, sometimes we become cold. Plus, our individual personalities are different. Also, some show their feelings and emotions in different ways. Some will cry along with you. Some others will first try to fix the problem, etc. Different ways to handle the feelings. The Narcissists have stored a lot of feelings and emotions into this mysterious place within ourselves, in order to function, but we too can reach limits. We too store away feelings regarding certain things and during certain situations. We too can go to an inner place and lock some doors and throw away a few keys and hide the maps and combinations and spare keys, in order to function. We All are like a canal or dam or reservoir with many levers that go up and down and switches and release points and fail safes, that have to be balanced out so that the canal or dam or reservoir does not fail in total. So that we can function. We are ALL complicated. We are complex. There is a lot that we know about ourselves, yet, there is a lot that we do not know about ourselves, but we are still working to increase our knowledge. And, we are marvelously made.

      1. Hi Claire, I haven’t been getting notifications in my WordPress account either. What I did though was subscribe to all of the comments on the blog to just see if anybody replied to me. It’s still hard though because there’s so many comments on the blog and I only figure out that it was a reply to me if the commenter mentioned my name. I haven’t uploaded the WordPress app because I have too many pictures of my kids in my phone so my memory left is small. I wonder if downloading the app makes it easier for others.

  3. Friends, I have a question related to your conversations. Do you feel overwhelmed by external stimuli of things that for normal people are part of daily routine? I’m thinking in particular, at this very moment, of my neighbor’s obsession to mowing his yard every other day, while I’m trying to concentrate on my work. I call him Attila the Hun. There’s no way his yard grows so fast, I think he needs a motivation in life. Anyway this, or other seemingly innocent activities or random events -a spam alert, girls selling Girl Scouts cookies at my door, the neighbor talking loudly in her yard- seem to cause a lot of anxiety in me that other people would not experience. Is this something any of you experience too? Maybe my narc was right and I’m just “too sensitive.”

    1. SP, You are sensitive, yes, but there is no TOO sensitive. It is more a management issue. You may feel triggered by over stimulation from many things, but when one of the examples you gave happens it is the proverbial last straw causing frustration or overwhelm and a desire to have some space from it all.

      I think everyone who has massive empathy needs time away from others to reset to neutral because we feel emotional input so deeply. This just happened to me this week. I am writing a few comments before I take a breather to reset 😉 Your examples are not my triggers (except I do feel guilty saying no to girl scouts), but we all have them and need space. Hope you find some space out in nature this weekend and take care of you.

      1. FYC: “there’s no TOO sensitive.” Thanks! I agree with you. But not on the girls scouts, they always make me feel bad if I don’t buy anything and I don’t like cookies. I end up buying cookies for other people but I know I’m giving diabetes away.

        1. Lol SP, I used to do that too! I also would give money but ask the Girl Scouts to give the cookies to someone else. Now I say no and feel a little guilty, but I also feel good being more authentic. Cookies are something I don’t eat. I still give freely to charities. I am more selective on fund raisers.

          With regard to sensitivity, I was told often by my N parent that I was too sensitive as a means of manipulation. I believed this for a long time, unfortunately. As an adult, I learned it is a gift and worth honoring and protecting. For management I make sure I have alone time when needed to recharge and sometimes take longer treks in nature which I love. Twilight helped me know more why it feels (and is) so replenishing.

          1. A spiritual guide I used to have told me it’s best to serve people directly than to give money away, because you cannot be responsible where that money is going to end up, and it could be ruining your karma without even knowing it. I think whether you believe in karma or not, it is the perfect excuse to not give money. If you are stingy or something. Haha. But seriously, I don’t like the connection charity-junk food. Although I love pain au chocolat that’s my weakness. Maybe I could talk to the girls scouts about it…

          2. SP, hehehe, I guess I’m canceling out my karma because I not only give cash, I am personally involved as well ;). I might benefit from some stingyness!

            I have been really blessed and I am happy to give (to whom I choose) and my plan is to give everything back by the time I die. Kind of like camping—leave nothing behind. BTW, it is aways best to check out a charities performance before giving. You can do so at:

            https://www.charitynavigator.org/

            You can also call and ask detailed budgetary/spend questions. If you write a grant proposal for them you learn every detail.

            In real life, only the IRS and those in the charities I work with are aware of my giving. I recommend keeping it private. My policy is to budget my time and money and seek to reach a measurable result. I got this advice from another like hearted person and it has served me well. So far so good!

            I do agree in general, people usually only value what they work for.

          3. Oh I forgot, do you mean via Twilight’s blog? I need to read it!

          4. SP, no, I do not have the link to Twilight’s blog, but I would like to see it as well. Maybe she will share it here. I was referring to the discussion on three strands of empathy a month ago.

        2. About that pain au chocolat, I do know an awesome bakery that could serve your needs! 😜

    2. SP:

      To answer your questions–yes. I am overly sensitive to external stimuli just as you describe.

      Lawn mowers don’t bother me but listening to gossip and neighbors talking about BS is rather insufferable.

      1. My neighbor’s voice would get in your mind and return in your deepest dreams. It’s a high pitch, yellow voice. I don’t know if she gossips, all I hear is yellow.

  4. Claire
    I have read this and understand your question, however the answer I’m not sure of, I believe this is something Twilight will be able to help you with. 😘

    1. I don’t know—it might just be an isolated skill. I will say that having become acquainted with the concepts of fuel and fury that these are absolutely the culprits much of the time. Let’s be realistic—normals do not typically throw fits in hospitals and end up on psychiatric holds. (Not talking about psychotic breaks) I’ve nearly always been able to connect, become painted white and abate crisis. Of course there are times we do an Axis 2 dance and we end up having to chemically/physically restrain, however, at this juncture it’s (I surmise) what the patient instinctively wanted. Why? They have that “emotional orgasm” and once they wake up it’s generally a huge shift—the fuel provision restored. I also feel quite connected to one woman in particular. I’ve been often caring for her over several years—a drug addicted prostitute. She is very very volatile and foul. When she sees me she hugs me and there are minimal problems while she is there. It’s like a tamed lion—but yes she is a lion and there is always risk. I simply adore her and I buy her things to have on hand. (Hygiene things etc) I wish I could fix her.

  5. I can calm down a lion in my work and sense exactly what is needed to do so and always get summoned to manage the difficult people.
    Would this be part of it? I hate being emotional. It’s just a weird concept for me and maybe it’s more about the capacity rather than always exercising extreme kindness??

  6. “Those with the majority element of the emotional contagion feel a deep-seated connection, they experience the ‘presence of others’ and find it necessary at times to remain away from people in order to divest themselves of the deleterious effects of being able to ‘feel’ so much.”

    This explains why I get so tired all the time and need to get away from all the absorption. I’ll even go as far as to have illnesses flare up as result of not just my stress but the stress of those around me. Social situations can exhaust me sometimes.

    It’s not something I like about myself but have come to accept. My humor will always dark and ridiculous, however.

    1. Bibi

      Dark humor…..I do understand that one.
      I need my solitude everyday, actually I have to prepare myself in the morning then in the evening before bed, sometime I am restless and don’t sleep due to the “flowing” of energy around me.

      1. Twilight,

        Not being able to sleep is something that I have always had trouble doing. I found myself retreating outdoors all hours of the night and early morning, never have I felt it to this extent until just recently. Learning that I am not the only one has helped tremendously in realizing that at least there is nothing wrong me, although I’m sure there are many that would disagree with that comment.lol Being able to prepare is something I wish I knew how to do. Having the large mix of schools and cadres also does not help me in controlling what is going on inside of me. At one time I thought HG could help me in learning how to control my ET and also my co-dependency issues I have with men, but I now think that is something that is even out of his realm of knowledge. As for the Co-D and men, I caught myself recently actually reverting back to that cycle I have continuously followed time and time again. Luckily this time however I did see it for myself and stopped, it flowed from me so naturally, it was as if it was a sixth sense. I agree with Bibi learning to accept it does help and for that I have you to thank my Dear Twilight. I hope the both of you have a stress free day. 😘🐺

        1. FM1T

          I have begun to write about what has happened and what I do to deal with the trauma I have experienced.
          I was encouraged not to long ago to write and another gave me an idea of how to use my pictures and how nature not only inspires me yet provides.

          1. Twilight
            That is absolutely wonderful!! There have been so many times that I wanted to ask for your help and guidance, I just wasn’t sure how to go about asking you? I didn’t have to, there was one mightier then us that brought us together! I am so happy that you have decided to write about all of this. Congratulations to you, I know it will help many and in doing so, will also help you. 😘

          2. FM1T

            Thank you.
            You can ask me anything. Facing a fear is more why I started to write, the few that know my story in my private life and the few I have revealed who I am have encouraged me. It was someone who saw the meaning behind some of my pictures that showed me how to go about things thou.
            There is no easy way through what we experienced, there is thou a way through, the choices we make will either bring us closer to who we are and free or keep us trapped within a comfortable lie.

          3. Twilight I don’t remember if I told you or not? Thank you so much for starting a blog, and telling us your story. It makes me very happy!! 😊😘🐺

          4. FM1T

            Ha ha now the spotlight of awkwardness…..HG work is just as much part of my journey…..don’t worry HG I will make sure you are credited and acknowledge for your part. My awareness increased 100x between reading your work and the consults we have had.

            I feel this is the right thing for me to do.

            Thank you thou FM1T!!!!!!

          5. Twilight, you have a blog telling your story? Where may we access it?

      2. Twilight, I too can suffer from insomnia when too much overwhelms. It’s awful when that happens. Solitude is very important to me and many don’t understand it. I am not trying to be unfriendly but my recharge time matters.

        As example, my job has been really busy as of late but many of my coworkers are still wanting to get together outside work for this and that and I am forced to decline. I don’t want to be mean but I’m like, ‘Dudes, I see you every damn day.’

        I love being on my patio with a cup of tea and reading or writing in my journal, etc.

        When I am stressed I enjoy watching a film that takes me out of my current location and mindset, so I enjoy when the film has ‘darker’ elements or existential aspects that remind me of the bigger picture.

        When I feel overwhelmed I try to conquer little things–get some groceries, vacuum this, tidy that. Having an aesthetic order calms me.

        1. Bibi

          Many things can bring on insomnia for me, the day before, the of and the day after a full moon…this girl doesn’t sleep.
          If I am over stimulated via people and/or nature ( hurricanes, thunderstorms etc) I have problems sleeping.
          I need an incredible amount of time alone, my home is peaceful and I am extremely vigilant about who comes over. It is a pain in the ass to remove the unwanted energy.

          1. Very interesting about the full moon. I was just discussing this with someone who used to work in a bar and he said on nights of full moons everyone acts insane.

            Rain helps me sleep. I enjoy rain but too much of the same weather over and over gets me restless–even pleasant, sunny days if there are too many in a row.

            I’ve never been one of those people who has visitors in and out and dropping by unexpectedly. That would drive me nuts.

          2. Bibi, I love the rain for sleeping too. I actually sleep pretty well but there was a time when I got sleep paralysis quite often and it was pretty scary.

          3. Bibi

            Yes many don’t understand nor are they aware of the energy durning a full moon.
            I love to be out in the woods durning that time, I am not stressed yet full of energy.

          4. I sleep awesome if I’m on vacation. I work 24/7 though (when I work) and it is a total sleep screw over. It benefits in more ways than it harms though but it’s rough.

          5. Twilight
            You are lunar also? Anytime when it has been full moon you will find me awake and outside in my yard. With me weather is a big one! You will even find me awake and outside during a snowstorm. In fact there is a need that goes on inside of me to be out in it. Of all the things that I do that seem strange to most people, this one with snow storms seems to be the one that gets them the most. Lol

          6. FM1T

            I love sitting under a full moon it is calming and peaceful, yet full of energy. It is when I get many of my more creative ideas or “signs”.
            I don’t think being out in a snow storm strange…….i love being outside durning a hurricane or lightning storms. Once I saw lighting hit a transformer…..I happen to be inside and saw it through the kitchen window. It was the next coolest thing I had seen dealing with them, the first was when someone shot one, it look like it was spewing fire balls in every direction.

          7. Someone shot one Twilight? How amazing that must have been! I love watching thunderstorms and feeling the energy run through my body when it is close enough. My daughter and I were sitting on the pier one night ( I don’t have to tell you where) and actually got to see a shooting star enter are atmosphere and the explosion that we heard is one nether of us will ever forget! Do have problems around appliances like radios, microwaves, even watches, and cell phones? I surely do! Lol. I send everything out of whack, as does my daughter! Hahaha. I needed to hear from you today. I was struggling on another post this morning and it was beginning to be a bit much. 😘

          8. FM1T

            Yes electronics go wacky around me.

            Hearing an meteorite enter the atmosphere….that is an unique sound.

            Yes observing what looked like electrical fire balls was fascinating.

            Your doing amazing. It takes time to control ones emotional thinking and not let it control.

          9. Thank you Twilight. I think with it being out over the bay and the fact it was just my daughter and I there at the time, made the experience even more unique and special.

            As far as my emotional thinking goes, I found some of the advice Abe had mentioned in another post very helpful. Especially when it comes to me waiting before I jump right in there letting my emotions take the lead and not even taking the time to think about the situation or what I’m even saying. I want to believe and trust everyone, I always have to look for the good in people. That is what happens when I let my ET control the situation. But I have found that when I’m not all over the place with emotion, I am not very trusting at all. I can actually think logically when I allow myself to do so. Lol. You’re correct Twilight it does take time, I have been this way for a very long time, and it is not something that can be fixed over night. 🥰🙃

          10. FM1T

            I have discovered using my oils have helped me with many things…..Which I will explain in time how,

            I trust only one person…..myself anyone after that gets my trust over time. I see good in everyone and the bad. Empaths are no angels either. Most people follow the crowd, like my example in an earlier article with “stealing” a cup for their drink instead of paying for it. They give the excuse they are not hurting anyone, and can get away with it. I see this as no different then the narcissist “stealing” a part of someone’s identity. The only thing different is the details.
            Stealing is stealing, period. Doesn’t matter if it is a cup or a life, those are just details and ones emotional thinking conning them that it is ok to do and finds excuses to make it feel comfortable (staying within the comfortable lie vs dealing with blunt truth).

            You will get control, it is a matter of practice and learning to say NO. Such a tiny word that holds so much power. One that can be used to give it away or keep it.

          11. Twilight
            As you will read in another comment I have written to you, last evening I said No! I am beginning to gain control, and must learn not to rush things, it will happen I just have to give myself time. Thank you!

          12. Hi Twilight, I have recently discovered I am a contagion empath as well. Explains a lot. I have read some of your posts about it, thankyou for posting, it has helped me understand.

    2. Bibi, dark humor is a product of disengagement so it naturally helps you unwind. My friends say I have a very absurd type of humor, which also obeys the same rule. I think it provides us with a neutral/objective perspective that we do not possess in our emotional responses otherwise. Sometimes it could be perceived as inopportune or irreverent though.

      1. SP
        If dark humour helps one unwind, I should be liquid. It can be used a coping mechanism. If people think it’s irreverent fuck ’em. Who says I enjoy having my teeth rot from eating a steady diet of their sugar?

        1. NA, true. Sometimes I feel quite misanthropic tbh. Oh this is unrelated, but I was posting pictures of a visit to an aquarium on IG and I had a laugh attack when I saw the one of the starfish. I didn’t post that one.

          1. SP
            Oh go ahead and post it! I doubt anyone will make the connection, but glad it made you laugh. I once told a MRN that he had some concerning warts near his starfish that he should see a doctor about (he didn’t). I looked quite concerned but was laughing inside at the look on his face working that out, and also the mental pic of him later hunched over with a mirror investigating. Asshole.

          2. HAHAHA!!!! That’s fantastic! I can imagine him with the mirror in his hand. I just found the starfish mention hilarious, as a non-native speaker I never heard that.

      2. SP:

        I use the dark/absurd humor as a means of fighting on otherwise melancholy that I deal with. It also keeps me from becoming too pretentious or uptight. Sometimes the world hurts but if the most I can do is laugh about it then I start to feel better. It can also lighten the mood and make others feel better which means less negative absorption for me.

        1. Bibi, I just see the world under that lens. I can’t pretend to not find the humorous side. It is the closest to being logical I can get, although it may sound contradictory but not to me. It allows me to create distance.

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