How To Tell If A Friend Is Empathetic Or Secretly Selfish

The sign couldn't be clearer.

Friends are our sounding boards. They're there for us when we need to vent, and they offer advice when we're in search of counsel. But, in the process, some well-intentioned friends relate your story to one of their own and end up doing far more talking about themselves than actual listening. Whatever happened to empathy?

According to Pulitzer Prize winner and author Margo Jefferson, there's one important quality we must possess if we're to be truly empathetic -- and it's not unlike what's required of you when you read a book.

"Empathy is actually a form of imagination," Jefferson says. "You move outside yourself, into a different story, a different reality. It's a transformation."

Those who can't seem to move outside of themselves are practicing a form of what she calls selfish empathy.

"Selfish empathy listens to or looks at another story and says, 'Oh, I've lived through that. Let me now tell you my story,'" Jefferson explains.

On the other end of the empathy spectrum is something Jefferson calls mysterious empathy.

"Mysterious or wondrous empathy is an active imagination," she says. "You see this 'other' and hear this other story, and you move inside it, as if you were a reader of somebody else's novel or memoir.

"Your self doesn't matter," Jefferson continues. "You translate it into another medium."

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