Is there a word or phrase that means thinking or claiming you're in the same situation as someone when you're actually not? For example, if two people seem to be suffering in the same way, but then it turns out one of them has a means of getting out of the situation that isn't available to the other and they simply choose not to use it. The person without the option might turn around and say they're not really in the same situation, contrary to the other's belief/claim.

The more fortunate person isn't necessarily pretending they understand or trying to trick the less fortunate one, they're just seemingly-ignorant of how they're actually better off. Insensitive, perhaps.

  • 2
    If the example is "accurate", I'm not sure [false] empathy is really the right word here. The ability to empathise with another's plight doesn't even depend on having been in a similar situation oneself. It certainly doesn't depend on being able to take the same corrective action. Commented May 18, 2014 at 19:14
  • I mainly said empathy for lack of a better word. I'm aware that it might be entirely wrong for what I'm asking.
    – Archerb
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 20:13
  • You also mentioned "thinking" in the question so it is related with empathy. But your example might be a bit different concept.
    – ermanen
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 20:18
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    @Archerb: So is empathising central to the concept you're asking about, or not? Might it simply be any situation where one person is "drawing a false parallel" between their own experience and that of someone else (by implication, someone to whom they're offering inappropriate advice because of that false parallel)? Commented May 18, 2014 at 20:24
  • I think the best way I can explain it is two people appearing to be in the same bad situation, but one is ignorant of how they're actually better off than the other.
    – Archerb
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 20:27

3 Answers 3


You might be looking for the term pseudo-empathy that is usually seen in narcissistic people :

The narcissist (especially high-level narcissists who are very successful in the world) is very adept at fake empathy or what can be called pseudo empathy. The socially gifted narcissist is an expert at convincing others that he/she cares deeply about them. "Pseudo empathy is exquisitely designed by the narcissist to manipulate others so they will fulfill his narcissistic needs."

Another perspective from the book "Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives" edited by Amy Coplan, Peter Goldie:

Rationally and theoretically, most of us understand that most people are very different from us, and yet we make these mistakes a lot. We don't just fail to understand others' subjective experiences; we often assume that we do understand them; which leads to a new set of problems. I contend that self-oriented perspective-taking leads to a type of pseudo-empathy since people often mistakenly believe that it provides them with access to the other's point of view when it does not.

Most of us have had the experience of disclosing something to a friend, having her respond, 'I know just how you're feeling,' and then realizing within moments that she does not. It's not that she hasn't been perspective-taking; she has. But the perspective has been her own; only the circumstances are ours. Thus our friend's perspective-taking has focused on her, not on us. While this can be useful for many reasons, it does not yield empathy.

According to the same book, your example goes a bit more deeper than empathy and is associated with assumption of similarity and false consensus effect:

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It is also mentioned that empathy and connivance is related to each other regarding to a psychoanalytic technique:

From the book "Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique: A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners" By Bruce Fink:

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Connivance is the act of conniving or conspiring, especially with the knowledge of and active or passive consent to wrongdoing or a twist in truth, to make something appear as something that it is not.

  • 1
    No, I'm not sure that's right. It's not that the more fortunate person is pretending, more like they're ignorant of how they're better off. I'm sorry, empathy might be completely the wrong word, I just couldn't think of a better one.
    – Archerb
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 20:22
  • @Archerb: It is not the only case, I gave two different examples in my answer. Pseudo-empathy is seen in different situations. This answers your title and the question, also helpful for future reference. Your example might include different concepts.
    – ermanen
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 20:26
  • I guess the second one is closer, but still not quite right somehow.
    – Archerb
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 22:04
  • Can you check "groupthink" and "conformity" also? I think it is related also, I can add that part if you confirm.
    – ermanen
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 0:44

For example,

  • I can't stand the disingenuity of the President of Mexico saying that Latinos are taking jobs that even blacks refuse.
  • She is so totally extremely biatchy disingenuous, "giving us the opportunity" to go on the luxury cruise in her stead, like as though we were of such underprivileged class beneath her.
  • Why don't politicians realise their frequent disingenuousness, especially expressing that they too had a hard life when we well knew that many of them were born with a silver spoon?

*Note: disingenuousness is the more formal version of disingenuity.

Too add hurt to hate, you could use the phrase cheesy disingenuity.

  • Her suggesting that we use her membership instead, is a precise example of her cheesy disingenuity. As though her membership is so much more privileged than ours.

dis·in·gen·u·ous (dĭs′ĭn-jĕn′yo̅o̅-əs)

  1. Not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating: "an ambitious, disingenuous, philistine, and hypocritical operator, who ... exemplified ... the most disagreeable traits of his time" (David Cannadine).
  2. Pretending to be unaware or unsophisticated; faux-naïf.
  3. Usage Problem Unaware or uninformed; naive. dis′in·gen′u·ous·ly adv. dis′in·gen′u·ous·ness n.

Usage Note: The meaning of disingenuous has been shifting about lately, as if people were unsure of its proper meaning. Generally, it means "insincere" and often seems to be a synonym of cynical or calculating. Not surprisingly, the word is used often in political contexts, as in It is both insensitive and disingenuous for the White House to describe its aid package and the proposal to eliminate the federal payment as "tough love." This use of the word is accepted by 94 percent of the Usage Panel. Most Panelists also accept the extended meaning relating to less reproachable behavior. Fully 88 percent accept disingenuous with the meaning "playfully insincere, faux-naïf," as in the example "I don't have a clue about late Beethoven!" he said. The remark seemed disingenuous, coming from one of the world's foremost concert pianists. Sometimes disingenuous is used as a synonym for naive, as if the dis- prefix functioned as an intensive (as it does in certain words like disannul) rather than as a negative element. This usage does not find much admiration among Panelists, however. Seventy-five percent do not accept it in the phrase a disingenuous tourist who falls prey to stereotypical con artists.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


The word poseur can be used in the context you describe.

Definition of POSEUR

: a person who pretends to be what he or she is not : an affected or insincere person http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/poseur

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