What is Emotional Contagion exactly? Here is one definition from Wikipedia:
the tendency to express and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others. One view of the underlying mechanism is that it represents a tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person and, consequently, to converge emotionally (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994). A broader definition of the phenomenon was suggested by Sigal G. Barsade- "a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes".
So what does this have to do with being an Empath? Well, just about everything, don't you think? How many of you have been in a group setting, and someone who was depressed walked in, and the air in the whole room changed. It felt stifling and you found it hard to breath. Or perhaps you began to feel sad and depressed for no apparent reason at all. Perhaps your chest tightened and you formed a knot in your stomach. Sure it could be indigestion, but as an Empath, it is more likely that you've been a victim of Emotional Contagion. Your taking on the feelings of others, unconsciously based on the mood swirling around the room.
Your first instinct tells you, if you are consciously aware of being an Empath, to seek out the person these feelings belong to and help them, even if you don't know them. This has a dual purpose. It helps the person in question, and it also relieves your own vicarious pain. It is as though you are compelled to do this, and drawn to the person who is depressed.
So have you ever been a victim, as it were, of Emotional Contagion? Silly question I know. Of course you have. There is not a person on this planet who hasn't suffered such an event, whether they are Empathic or not. It is simply worse for those who are extremely sensitive and aware of their gifts. And it is easier to fix the problem, when one is consciously aware of who and what they are.
Once you are cognizant of being an Empath or having such a gift, you easily connect with the person who is in pain. You not only begin to feel their general mood (which in turn lowers your mood), but then you begin to pick up on individual emotions that are swirling around that person, screaming for release. And you, my dear ones, are the release mechanism.