Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Empath Subculture

The point of this blog is not to judge anybody; the point is not to call anybody out, nor to advocate anything. The simple point of this discussion is to offer a different perspective on the Empathic Subculture. I hope to remove all the fluff and love, and observe a culture as a scientist would. I hope to encourage thought.

A society is two or more creatures that interact. Ants live in a colony; a colony is a society. Wolves travel in packs; a pack is a society. Bees live in hives; a hive is a society. The scientific field that studies societies is called sociology. Sociology studies people and how they interact. Think of it this way: studying a tree is psychology, while studying the forest is sociology. You aren't just looking at the way one tree grows, you are observing how that tree grows in comparison to the one next to it, and how growing together influences growth.

This tree grew up in a bad neighborhood

The obvious product of people interacting is culture. Culture is what happens when people get together and form their own club. American culture is different than British culture, which also differs greatly than Asian culture. Culture is a group of people that share common ideology, morals, values, customs, practices, etc. For example, in Japan, burping after a meal is a compliment to the chef; it says that the meal was satisfying. Also, finishing all the food on your plate is a grave insult to your host; it says that they did not provide enough for you. Giving someone the thumbs-up in the middle east says, "I'm gonna jam my thumb up your butt!"

"C'mon, It'll be fun!"

Now consider the following: a culture can be any size. A culture within a culture is called a subculture. In America, the north and south are each subcultures. Many southerners who visit the north flip out when they discover that the yankees don't drink sweet tea. Similarly, northerners freak out when they see the lovely southern cuisine. And subcultures are not geographically dependant. Those annoying little emo kids are all over America. Emos have their own subculture. Rednecks have their own subculture. And yes, the title is correct. Empaths have their own subculture. One key difference between other cultures and EC is obvious: The Empath community is a culture comprised primarily of people who are empathetic, or at least, hypersensitive.

Do a quick little google search for "empath". On the very first page, you'll find a forum called The Empath Community. This forum has over 2000 members, and yes. They have developed their own subculture that reflects the empath subculture. Just because this culture is on the internet does not make it different. EC has it's own morals, values, traditions, ideology, and beliefs. Take for example the almost universal view on mind control: bad. To know the culture that developed on The Empath Community, you have to know the members. There are many types of people that join this community, but a few are more prominent than others.

First you have those that seek knowledge. And by that, I mean they are going through something called "a dark night of the soul". This is when a person is lost and afraid, searching for something to grab on to. This type of person is tortured by empathy, and ruled by emotion. They are terrified, and desperate. When they find EC, they feel saved. They see others like them, and get validation. The community offers a love-safety net for these people. They search for someone to tell them they exist and are worth something, and the empath safety net satisfies that need. Other members do their best to console the scared new members, and make sure they feel loved.

Then, you have those that are searching for people. They aren't searching for information or answers, they may not even be empathic. but they are searching for validation. They see EC, and fall into its safety net. They feel loved and accepted, and so they stay.

Third is a special type of person. Before I discuss this type, I must explain one service that EC offers: empathic readings. Because many of the members are extra sensitive, a specific category was created to give "readings". A reading is when someone asks for help or information, and the various members offer information they obtain through their rare abilities. This service is completely free. Members that need help and guidance can post here, and get help. They are provided with other perspectives and viewpoints that they may have never considered. Some members even give advice and answers. Because of this, it also attracts people looking for easy, simple answers. They join just to take advantage of the free readings that are offered. Originally, the category was created to give empaths a place to practice. However, as time went on, it grew. People started posting in that category for answers alone. That practice caught on until barely any of the posts are requesting readings just for fun. Most, if not all, of the posts now are about important life crisis, or even emergencies. They demand accurate readings, and the new empaths do not have enough confidence in their intuition, so they do not attempt it. The original reason for the category has been lost. This shows how the community is growing and developing as a culture. Things change form and function. Unwritten laws are created. So how do new members become a part of this subculture and learn these rules?

When someone new shows up on the site, a series of events take place. Let's take the first type of member as an example. Someone who is lost and afraid shows up. Immediately, in the first chat message or the first post, they are saved by the net of love and validation. They are consoled, and told that they are loved and with people like them now. This is when the culture shapes new members to fit in. Every person adapting to any new culture goes through this process. Ideas that do not agree with the laws of the culture are trimmed away, and new ideas are put in place, leaving a perfectly shaped new member. This process serves two purposes. First, it shapes people for the subculture. They work and fit in perfectly, they even become a part of that love net. Second, it weeds out those who would otherwise cause harm to the community. If your beliefs do not coincide with the community, and you are not willing to convert, you are shunned. This is best shown with the incident that occured a while back. EC had strict rules on empathic vampires. When a new member showed up and said that she was an empathic vampire, all hell broke loose. She was attacked and shunned by the community. She was seen as a threat. Only after several discussions on emotional vampirism did the community reluctantly change. Hints of prejudice remain, but for the most part, EC is neutral twards emotional vampires.

A question must be asked, however. Why was there hate twards vampires to begin with? The answer to this question is also the answer to another question, "What is the driving force behind the Empath Community?" The answer is simple.


When someone new shows up on the site, they are generally full of fear. The safety-love net created by the other members consoles that person, but the reason for the fear is still there. The net acts like a band-aid. It does a great job of helping the person in the short-term, but the long term reason for fear is still there. So when someone shows up with views that don't fit EC, such as advocating psychic mind control, or invasive mind reading, the members react with fear and attempt to set that new person strieght. If that new member does not change, the members react with even more fear. They fear that the new member will cause irreprable harm to the them, or the community, and as such, they attempt to get rid of the newcomer.

That fear is also the reason that so many people conform to the community. Very rarely does someone post a controversial idea: most of the time it is a question. Instead of "Here is something to think about" or "here is what I believe", they post, "Is this okay to do?" or "Is this good or bad?" They fear that if they promote an idea which does not agree with the values and morals of the empath subculture, they will be shunned. This applies to all posts. This causes most of the community to act like a herd; they become followers. And just with every culture, there are people from all walks of life. However, the difference is how these people are treated. If you aren't a follower on EC, you are one of two things: shunned, or loved. If you aren't a follower, you are a leader. A leader promotes an idea; they post a "here is something to think about" and people agree. They are afraid not to. This gives leaders almost limitless power.

For a great example of the power of EC leaders, I take you back to the emotional vampire incident. I hope you asked "wait, why did EC change so suddenly?" Hate and prejudice do not change overnight... at least anywhere but EC. A couple of leaders heard about the incident, and did not like it. When they posted discussions about it, the followers agreed. They had fear towards the vampires, but they had a stronger fear of being shunned for keeping that fear. The culture gives so much power to leaders that they can actually change the morals and values of it. This gives leaders with good intentions the power to do a very large amount of good. Their words are taken to heart, and accepted, instead of being shunned as "crazy" or "insane". Most often, leaders are adored for their work. They help others and because of that, they are validated by the thanks they receive. Both leaders and the followers are looking for the same thing: validation; a sense of purpose; being told they are worth something. Because of this continual search, low self esteem is easy to develop. And low self esteem generally leads down one of two paths: emotional dissasociation, or narccissism. One forms a messiah, and the other forms a follower.

When someone stops focusing on themselves, and begins to focus soley on other people, they have developed emotional dissasociation. They push away and hide their emotions until they can't feel them anymore. They completely abandon themselves. This is the extreme form of altruism; this person will live to serve other people, and follow them to hell and back.

On the other hand, the opposite extreme is narccissism. At that point, they would completely abandon other people, and care only for themselves. They are in their own little world, that only consists of them. If a leader develops narccissism, they can get addicted to the power, the adoration of their followers. In rare cases, they can even develop a messiah complex. Essentially a messiah complex is where someone believes that they are the messiah, the one who will give you the ultimate "truth", because only they can "see" it. And you just have to trust them that they aren't lying to you, or even just making stuff up. In return for the "truth", you have to follow them. I am not saying that all leaders have messiah complexes; I am simply saying that it is very easy to go from "I'm a leader" to "I'm the leader". It's as simple as changing one word.

So now that the different parts of EC have been identified, there are three perspectives within sociology: the structural-functional, the conflict, and the symbolic. The structural-functional perspective aims to observe how different parts of a society work together and interact. The conflict perspective looks at different factions and watches how they compete for limited resources. The symbolic perspective looks at relationships and connections and what they mean to different people.

If you put EC under the structural-functional perspective, you can see just how interwoven everything appears. This particular view looks at a society like an organism. Different parts working together to create the whole. Under this lens, the love-safety net that members weave to catch those that fall serves a few very vital purposes. First, it does the obvious: catch those that fall. Members that slip, and require love and support get it. Second, it gives members a place to practice empathy. Some members want to get rid of their abilities altogether, or at least turn them down. This net gives them the opportunity to practice that ability with newer members who have way too much emotion. And third, it gives people a sense of purpose. Those older members who need to be validated can help newer members along their path. The thanks they offer validates the ones that offer help. However, this net can also be dangerous. Some members get addicted to the love and support they get from the net. They feel that it's easier just to get a quick fix from EC than to actually solve their problems and heal themselves. Another part of the Empath Community that serves a vital purpose: the leaders. The leaders serve a VERY vital role, in that they give the following members a sense of direction. A leader often acts as a dumping ground, giving a way for people to vent. Leaders also guide other members in the right direction. They create the morals and values of the community, and more or less run the show. There are many other parts of EC, including the reading section, the venting group, the different cliques that form. They all work together to form a cohesive whole culture.

Under the conflict perspecive, a different view of the Empath Community appears. There are different groups and factions, almost at war with eachother. Individual members compete for validation. They compete for pity and help. I have sat in the chatroom, and watched three people demand pity and empathy; they were competing for the limited resource in the chatroom. The reading forum has become a battleground; members demanding readings for their life crisis, because not only are they offered advice, but empathy. However, there are large-scale battles being fought. When leaders don't agree, they often do battle. These leaders are competeing for followers, and validation. When two leaders go at it, the battle does not let up for a while. And more often than not, EC changes significantly afterwards.

By far the most interesting view is the symbolic approach. Under this lens, the foundation of EC is obvious. The foundation is in the name: empathy. Members are woven together and held together by empathy. The fear is what drives them to the site; the empathy is what makes them stay. Most members are close friends, and rarely do older members get into fights. The love and support everyone gives eachother is too valuable to risk damaging. This mixture of fear, empathy, and valued relationships is also what drives most to be followers. They value their relationships too much to risk them, even in the slightest bit, so they conform.

But now take a moment to consider this. What is the act of offering that validation? What is the act of stretching out that net to catch those that fall? The intent of the individual does not matter. The act itself is altruistic.

A new member enters the chatroom; she feels cold, alone, and scared. She is very shy, and waits for her moment to enter the conversation, to ask for help. She is too timid to find that moment. Yet one of the members notices that she is in the room, and hasn't spoken, and greets her first. She sees her moment, and greets the other members. That simple act of greeting the timid new member, is an act of altruism. Asking her how her day was, and listening. Then, allowing her to unload all of her emotions into the chatroom, all of those are acts of altruism. It does not matter if the individual offering the helping hand was seeking fame, fortune, validation, etc. The simple act of offering that help was good. The new member will leave the chatroom with a fresh start, she is no longer alone and scared. The simple act of confirming her existance and listening was enough to lift her from her dark night.

Yes, fear is the basis of the Empath Community. It is also, however, the basis for all of humanity. We are biologically wired to see danger first. It kept us alive when we had to wrestle with sabertooth tigers for a scrap of deer meat. It kept soldiers alive when the only signal for danger was a loud bang and a flash of light somewhere in the distance.

But there is another element. The community is called "The Empath Community" for a reason. The majority of the members join, because they are empaths, or at least, empathetic. Yes, they fear rejection and isolation. But they also offer love and support to those who need it. The community is run by just as much love and support as it is fear. No matter the intent of the individual offering the help and support, they are still offering help and support.

"If you give a man a fish, he eats for one day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime."

That saying is interesting in the sense that it can be applied to psuedo-messiahs. They give you fish, so that you depend on them. If you teach that man to fish, you just lost your customer. Think about it though: which is better? Giving a man one fish, or giving a man a lifetime of fish? Now, think about it from the man's perspective. Both feed him. Both keep him from starving. Without your fish, he would die. It doesn't matter if you feed him once a day, or teach him to feed himself. You are still feeding him. Either way, you are giving him fish. This is exactly the same as the Empath Community. Teaching someone to help themselves is only useful if they can. If the man is starving, he obviously can't wait for a fish to bite. He needs your fish. Some members simply can't help themselves. Once they are helped, and raised from their dark night, they can begin to learn to help themselves.

And so, the Empath Community offers that helping hand, regardless of the intent behind it.

The point of life is to collect perspectives. And this is the perspective of one scientific empath observing a culture created out of empathy.

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of the saying, "A person is smart, people are stupid." The whole group mentality of sheep, just following whoever seems to make the most sense at the time. It also makes me glad that I have never gotten involved in the Empath Community forums! :)