In Empathic Circles there is one question that gets asked about as much as the biggest questions like, 'Am I an Empath?' 'How do I control this ability?' , and that question is, 'Is being an Empath hereditary or is it a learned behavior?' And depending on the person you ask, their understanding of this subject, and their experience with it, you will usually get a variety of answers, most of which are middle of the road on the subject, in that they will tell you it is a combination of both.
But this particular blog isn't going to be a compare/contrast of the two types in question, heredity and learned behavior. Instead we are going to focus solely on some of what it takes, whether purposely done or not, to groom one into an Empath. In other words, we will be looking at what makes Empathy a learned behavior for some. So, like always, lets look at some basic definitions before we move on to the heart of this discussion.
An Empath is a person who has an acute or highly developed sense of empathy. Empathy is the capability to share your feelings and understand another's emotion and feelings and is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes".
A learned behavior, unlike an innate or instinctive behavior, is a behavior that is either observed and mimicked, or a conditioned response to a specific stimuli (reward and punishment) through either voluntary or forced intent.
Grooming is an activity leading to skilled behavior through training and/or preparation.
White Knight Syndrome
A personality characteristic found in most males that lead them to:
1. rush to the aid of any female they see who appears in any form of distress.
2. Become attracted to said damsel in distress.
3. Follow the dying code of chivalry and generally act like a nice guy.
The White Knight Archetype
So you've seen the definition of White Knight Syndrome above in the definitions, but there is more to this particular archetype than meets the eye. First and foremost, it is not limited to men, just as the role of damsel in distress is not limited to females. Sounds corny and illogical, doesn't it, man who is a damsel in distress and a woman who is the white knight? But never the less, there are cases to support this supposition.
First, being a White Knight or Savior, does not have to be taken in the literal sense, in that it can be present in cases of empathic advocacy for people who are emotionally dissociative. In this case, the damsel in distress is the person who has lost touch with their emotions. And the white knight is the one who reacts emotionally in the stead of the 'damsel', as it were.
This particular archetype can rise up in a person who has been conditioned or groomed, since their youth, to be a caretaker, a mother/father figure, a healer, or a counselor. Because, from such an early age, this was how they perceived themselves as 'needed', it becomes a learned behavioral pattern throughout their lives. It becomes their purpose in life, because it is the only way they have ever perceived themselves. It flows into their familial relationships, friendships, and later on, into their romantic relationships. They will, unknowingly, look for those people who are 'in need' (the damsel) to fulfill their need to be 'needed' (white knight).
This particular behavior pattern can be extremely unhealthy for both the white knight and the damsel, because it promotes codependence. It encourages the damsel to rely, to whatever degree, on the white knight, instead of learning healthy ways to become independent, both physically and emotionally. And it encourages the white knight to stay in this unhealthy behavioral pattern, in which their needs, wants and desires are suppressed for the sake of focusing on the damsel and their needs.
The white knight's perceived value and/or worth is then interwoven with the needs and opinions of the damsel. So if the damsel rebuffs the white knight, they are infact denying the white knight has any value to them. And from here we come back to the unhealthy behavior pattern of codependence through empathic advocacy.
The Grooming Of An Empath
It has been my observation that there are several methods of conditioning or grooming that can produce an Empath, which again does not take into account any hereditary predisposition toward empathy, mirror neurons, or innate hypersensitivity in general.
The first type occurs when a parent or guardian is absent from the home for long periods of time, due to the need to support the family or through neglect, and the child, who is being conditioned, takes over the role of the parents with other siblings. Because of this early conditioning, the role of mother hen, as it were, becomes a life long role which permeates all aspects of the person's life.
The person develops a heightened sensitivity toward other people's needs and moods, and instinctively reacts reflectively to meet those moods and needs.
The second type, which is based on the Wounded Healer Archetype, is born out of some kind of trauma, abuse, or accident early on in the developmental process of the person in question. There are any number of possibilities which can bring this particular type of conditioning about which include, but are not limited to, sexual abuse/molestation, parental death, physical and/or emotional abuse, or the observation of a parent or sibling being treated in such a way.
Because of, whatever type of experience initiated this type of conditioning, the person develops a heightened sensitivity toward other people's moods and needs, and instinctively reacts to meet those needs. This occurs out of a need to keep the peace, because heavy emotions, deep intimacy, and loud outbursts are shied away from based on past experiences with these things.
A good example of this can be seen in someone who was physically abused by a parental figure. Later in life, if someone who is an intimate relation to this person gets angry and raises a fist in the air, the other person instinctively flinches away, based on past experiences of raised fists. The reaction is conditioned, or a learned behavior, and will occur even if they consciously know that the other person has absolutely no intention of hitting them.
Both of these types of conditioning can help to develop the heightened sensitivity in a person that will later distinguish them as an Empath. But these are certainly not the only types of conditioning that can play a part in the development of an Empathic personality. And in saying writing this blog, it does not take into account one's predisposition toward an empathic nature and heredity. Nor does it say that someone, who has not gone through these types of situations, can not be Empathic. So please don't take this blog as the complete guide to how one develops into an Empath. That is much to complex to put in one single blog. ^_^