Emotions–Wrangling with empathy…

I’ve tried to find time to write this for the past two days–and despite the fact that other things are calling to me to work on them–I’m just gonna get this done first.

At the end of my last post on emotions I was trying to get to the point about differences between Fi and Fe and specifically about how certain personality types–say like ENFJ’s–seem to work with emotions in ways that really are foreign to me….

Today–I want to explain a bit more about what I mean by “foreign” and to do that I’m going to talk about what I call “empathy” but which may actually be something else entirely to other people.

My basic definition of “empathy” boils down to the ability to place yourself in someone else’s emotional shoes and to understand what they may be feeling and to therefore take appropriate actions so that you do unto them as you would have them do unto you.

Now.. looking at a dictionary definition of empathy, I see that this second part of my clause may be stretching a typical definition of empathy a bit.  Perhaps not, though, as the linked definition also talks about identifying with the emotional states of someone else and that is where I think the real rub for me is with regard to  my notions of “empathy.”

Specifically, I’ve noticed–or at least I’ve repeatedly had the experience–that when dealing with people who have very strong Fe’s, that while they are extremely good at understanding my emotional state (or just the emotional states of others), that this process of identification with the states of others does not function in a way that I can relate to at all–such that I wonder if it happens at all!

Now–I will admit straight off that all of these observations of mine may be due to the fact that I’m just not as familiar with and that I do not easily grok/parse/work fluidly with emotional states nearly as much as I do with other kinds of data.  Emotions are something that tend to have a massive lag and delay with in my perceptions, and they are not something that I have tons of practice with.  However, or maybe the better conjunction is because this is the case–and because my own experience with dealing with my emotional states–when they break through–has always been an intricate matter–I tend to treat such activities as if they were very fragile and delicate items and thus one should be careful when interacting with them.  This goes double for me when it involves someone else’s emotional states–because just as much as I don’t like being hurt–I don’t want to hurt others.

Now–I must add here that a further piece of my reasoning of why this is an Fe thing is that I know a number of people who have seriously huge Fi’s–my best half is an ESPF, for example–and I have a number of INFP friends and a close ISFP friend–and never have they ever displayed the “lack of empathy/identification with another’s emotions” type of situation that I’ve mentioned above.  Thus, I do tend to think that Fe’s–or at least those types that are really strong Fe’s (ESFJ’s and ENFJ’s especially), process emotions and interact with them in ways that are very, very different than Fi’s, and I’d like to have a better grasp of how they do this for a number of reasons.

In general, my experience with strong Fe’s has often been quite negative, some of which was due to intentional negativity (cruelty) on their part, and other times only as unintentional negativity that I don’t think they realized they were doing.  Specifically, this negativity took the form of drawing out particular emotional reactions/states in a person–and doing it so well and so fluidly that you didn’t even realize that this was anything other than a natural reaction on your part–and then often switching gears so completely that your emotional trajectory suddenly is left hanging without any support so that it crashes and burns.

I just explained this to a friend of mine in the following analogy, and I think it works quite well–at least as a description of the perceptions of the non Fe individual:

Interacting with an ENFJ is often like taking a ride, but it is almost always the case that the ENFJ is driving your emotional car around, while you are in the passenger seat and enjoying the ride–which is really exciting, because the ENFJ is such a good driver.  However, it seems that it is too often the case that in the middle of the ride, the ENFJ decides to do something else, and then they just jump out of the car while it was moving (landing on their feet of course and walking away) and then, try as you might to regain control, you often drive off the road and crash.  As you then pull yourself from the car, the ENFJ drives over in a new car–which they claim will be yours if you climb in–and ask you if you want a ride to the hospital–either not recognizing that they caused this damaged state in you–or ignoring it and making you feel like you must obviously have caused it…

Now–reflecting on this analogy (which my friend confirmed as similar to her experience…) I had two observations:

1) ENFJ’s (and ESFJ’s to a lesser extent–they seem to be more hemmed in by their Si than the ENFJ’s with their Ni…) seem to play with emotional states like INTJ’s play with ideas–they move them around, see if they are interesting, push them to extremes to see if they will break, and are quite willing to discard them at will if they aren’t useful.  Combined with the ENFJ’s usual underlying goal of “creating harmony” around them (although I think this notion of harmony usually seems to be centered on the ENFJ’s emotional needs than any more objective analysis of the most harmonious state of all individuals involved–but perhaps this is just due to my own biased anecdotal experience..)–this leads ENFJ’s to move through emotional states with a speed and facility that can be bruising for those who are less adept.  Similarly–INTJ’s have been accused (and accurately, in my view) of chewing through ideas/theories/plans that people put out and spitting out what they think is actually useful–while discarding what they’ve decided is fluff–without ever thinking twice about it.  What is important here is that while most INTJ’s are not really emotionally invested in ideas in any strong way, other personality types often are–especially if they think this idea embodies their core beliefs–and that this process of just doing open heart surgery/massive pruning/destructive testing without any consideration of other people’s emotional investment–can appear and probably actually does violence to these non-INTJ (and probably non-NT overall) types on some level.

And in this thought–I think I may have found a key in the idea of emotional investment.  Although this may sound strange, I think that it may be the case that an ENFJ super familiarity with emotional states–due to their dominant Fe–may lead them to place less (if any?) “emotional investment” in any particular emotional state of either themselves or of others.  These “emotional states” are so familiar to them, that they are like blocks to be rearranged and built into structures–but then also broken down and reused when you desire to build something else.

An appropriate analogy here might be that ENFJ’s live in a playground of emotional states.  They play games with such emotional states–and they know the rules to these games (or they make them up like in Calvin Ball ) and they sort of implicitly assume that everyone else is there on the playground because they are there to play also.  Thus, while playing a game, they may, at some point decide that the game is over and then go on to a different game, but if they are playing with people who don’t understand the rules of the game or who don’t even know that a game is being played then there can often be grave misunderstandings.

In any case–I think the thought I want to take up next time will focus on this idea of “emotional investment” and I’m already thinking that the “emotional” part of designation may be a misnomer.  Rather–it is more of a process whereby people choose to invest certain things with meaning–and often they do so in a manner that connects with their conceptions of their identity in ways that are not obvious to others.  I also think that part of this has to do not with content–but with the actual practices that different types of people are familiar with… for example–scorched earth debates between INTJ’s involving analytical napalm and thermonuclear argumentation doesn’t really ever seem to bother any of the INTJ’s involved–although it may raise passions to win the argument, it usually does not seem to threaten anybody, because such kinds of practice are intrinsic to INTJ’s and are considered part of normal everyday activity–and they also consider them fun.  An ENFJ looking in on this–or worse, trying to take part–would probably be aghast and/or end up severely mentally battered (and in fact, this has been my experience!)–even though the INTJ’s would not necessarily have any intention of it seeming this way…

Somewhere in there is the key, I believe to rooting out this process.. and I will try to think upon this some more next time..


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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2 Responses to Emotions–Wrangling with empathy…

  1. Pingback: What do you Do? | The Philosophy of NOM

  2. Pingback: Types and Questions to Live by… | The Philosophy of NOM

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